Digital Identity and the Blockchain: Universal Identity Management and the Concept of the ‘Self-Sovereign’ Individual

Front. Blockchain, 28 May 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fbloc.2020.00026

28 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2019 Last revised: 28 May 2020

See all articles by Andrej Zwitter

Andrej Zwitter

Campus Fryslân

Oskar Josef Gstrein

University of Groningen - Campus Fryslân; Europa-Institut, Saarland University

Evan Yap

Tykn

Date Written: March 4, 2020

Abstract

While ‘classical’ human identity has kept philosophers busy since millennia, ‘Digital Identity’ seems primarily machine related. Telephone numbers, E-Mail inboxes, or Internet Protocol (IP)-addresses are irrelevant to define us as human beings at first glance. However, with the omnipresence of digital space the digital aspects of identity gain importance. In this submission, we aim to put recent developments in context and provide a categorization to frame the landscape as developments proceed rapidly. First, we present selected philosophical perspectives on identity. Secondly, we explore how the legal landscape is approaching identity from a traditional dogmatic perspective both in national and international law. After blending the insights from those sections together in a third step, we will go on to describe and discuss current developments that are driven by the emergence of new tools such as ‘Distributed Ledger Technology’ and ‘Zero Knowledge Proof’. One of our main findings is that the management of digital identity is transforming from a purpose driven necessity towards a self-standing activity that becomes a resource for many digital applications. In other words, whereas traditionally identity is addressed in a predominantly sectoral fashion whenever necessary, new technologies transform digital identity management into a basic infrastructural service, sometimes even a commodity. This coincides with a trend to take the ‘control’ over identity away from governmental institutions and corporate actors to ‘self-sovereign individuals’, who have now the opportunity to manage their digital self autonomously. To make our conceptual statements more relevant, we present several already existing use cases in the public and private sector. Subsequently, we discuss potential risks that should be mitigated in order to create a desirable relationship between the individual, public institutions, and the private sector in a world where self-sovereign identity management has become the norm. We will illustrate these issues along the discussion around privacy, as well as the development of backup mechanisms for digital identities. Despite the undeniable potential for the management of identity, we suggest that particularly at this point in time there is a clear need to make detailed (non-technological) governance decisions impacting the general design and implementation of self-sovereign identity systems.

Keywords: Blockchain, Digital Identity, Self-Sovereign Identity, Governance, Innovation, Human Dignity

Suggested Citation

Zwitter, Andrej and Gstrein, Oskar Josef and Yap, Evan, Digital Identity and the Blockchain: Universal Identity Management and the Concept of the ‘Self-Sovereign’ Individual (March 4, 2020). Front. Blockchain, 28 May 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fbloc.2020.00026 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3454513 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3454513

Andrej Zwitter

Campus Fryslân ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV
Netherlands

Oskar Josef Gstrein (Contact Author)

University of Groningen - Campus Fryslân ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://www.rug.nl/staff/o.j.gstrein/

Europa-Institut, Saarland University ( email )

Campus, Gebäude B2.1
Saarbrücken, 66123
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://europainstitut.de

Evan Yap

Tykn ( email )

Saturnusstraat 14
The Hague, 2516AH
Netherlands

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
536
Abstract Views
2,001
rank
68,049
PlumX Metrics