A universally compatible Blockchain-based smart identity project by Deloitte has the potential to impact every aspect of our lives. In an era where we are increasingly using mobile and electronic devices to move data around, identity management is still stuck in the era of paper.

Crossing borders, being able to drive, getting benefits from the state, all require some form of paper or plastic based identification. Different public and private organizations routinely request identity information from people and companies and often this information has to be given repeatedly even in one day.

Deloitte is working on a ‘smart identity’ based on Blockchain technology that aims to solve forever this complex problem and take us out of the era of paper based identification.

Blockchain can provide one identity for all

Letting users manage their own identity and having it verified from trustable third parties can open the doors to an era where we will be free from the shackles of having to keep proving who we are all the time.

Digital identities run on Blockchain chain tech can not only allow individuals and businesses to be verified but also ‘things’.

We talked with Alexander Shelkovnikov, Deloitte Ventures and Blockchain Lead in the UK, about how far along the project has come. He says:

“Smart Identity is a working prototype which is constantly evolving based on real feedback from users. It offers news ways for individuals, organisations and things/objects to obtain and use verified identity credentials to transact with one another.”

Self-sovereign identity is far away

In an ideal world, people should be able to manage their own identities and be in charge of how these identities are shared. Deloitte recognize the need for this but they think we are far away from that goal. Alexander Shelkovnikov remarks:

“The end goal is to get to a world where users would be able to own and administer their identities securely and seamlessly. We do, however, realise that it’s an evolutionary process and we’d need to go through a number of phases before we are able to reach the state of a truly self-sovereign identity in a way that is accepted and trusted by governments, regulators, financial institutions and more.”

Identities of people and things

A central question to any sort of digital identity should be who does the identity serve?

When people part with information about themselves, they invariably do so with the expectation that their privacy is maintained and the identity information is used for the purpose for which it is shared. As Alexander Shelkovnikov puts it:

“The power of Smart Identity is that it’s designed in a way that would allow for identities of both individuals, organisations and even things/ objects. We don’t look at these segments in isolation as increasingly we see the need for interaction and easy interfaces between the consumer and enterprise world when it comes to the provision of different services. As things like self-driving cars, drones and other internet-connected devices become part of our everyday lives, these types of objects each would also need to have an identity record which is secure but, at the same time, easy to administer or, where necessary, to control.”

Flexibility to operate on any Blockchain

An interesting facet of the Deloitte project is that Smart Identity as a protocol is portable on different Blockchains while the current version of the prototype has been using Ethereum Blockchain. We also asked Deloitte about who is going to hold the actual data and we were told that there is a number of trusted data repositories available but there is also scope for using a hybrid model with a network of trusted custodian services as well as distributed data services in the future.

The future scope of the smart identity project

In order to migrate from the current system of paper based identity that we have today, there will invariably be the need for all parties involved like governments, corporations and individuals to work in tandem.

Cointelegraph asked Shelkovnikov about the issue of provenance of identification and how it would all work. Deloitte is of the view that provenance can be added later on:

“The range of identity documents/attributes that can be managed is unlimited, we expect state issued identity documents to be used within the smart identity ecosystem. Importantly however, the provenance itself is not provided when a document is first added to a profile, it is provided by the subsequent digital endorsement of that document by one or more third parties, which is stored alongside an underlying document and verifiable within the Blockchain. Anyone can claim to have driving license X, but only one person is likely to have both a claim, and a supporting endorsement from the issuing authority for a given identity document.”

Providing identity to those who have none

One of the central problems of the third world has been the millions of people who have no way of proving who they are thus getting deprived of essential services and benefits. On the question of whether the Smart Identity solution will be extended to developing countries, Deloitte doesn't see barriers to deploying the technology that it has developed globally without any geographical restrictions:

“Our intention is to solve the problem of digital identity in a way which allows anyone to participate in the future identity ecosystem without geographical constraint and with zero or very low cost of entry. The current prototype can be thought of as a reference implementation of an underlying protocol (the set of rules which describe how to interact with, how to structure, create and verify identity information), and the real world applications which apply this protocol can be implemented and operated by anyone. Over time this will create a competitive environment within which anyone from an individual to a start-up or even a multi-national organisation can access/provide identity services on top of a decentralised, free-to-access Blockchain verification layer. We work closely with colleagues across the world including third world territories, and expect to see such services emerge in all environments, particularly in areas where social or economic need is greatest.”