For Scotland to realize an ambition of becoming a digital world leader this requires that we pioneer, not follow, the latest cutting edge developments in this field, and at the forefront of the trend is the emerging technology of ‘Self-Sovereign Identity‘, an innovation that can be harnessed to build out a National Blockchain Network, the ‘Scottish Common Blockchain’.
Self Sovereign Identity
As the name suggests the key principle of ‘Self Sovereign Identity’ (SSI) is that identity systems are not operated centrally by one organization, but rather the user themselves are in control of their own digital identity and personal data.
Sovrin provide this introductory article explaining SSI – They are central to this trend, operating the membership organization, a collection of ‘stewards’, who work together to ensure the integrity of the network much in the same way DNS is regulated. Via his blog tech industry luminary Phil Windley describes their launch.
As this video from Napier University describes, the central technology trend is one of ever decentralizing approaches to identity. Key open standards include the W3C’s ‘DID’ specification : Decentralized Identifiers.
At a superficial level, a decentralized identifier (DID) is simply a new type of globally unique identifier. But at a deeper level, DIDs are the core component of an entirely new layer of decentralized digital identity and public key infrastructure (PKI) for the Internet.
Localized Digital Identity Ecosystems – Building the Scottish Credential Ecosystem
In addition to the global identity governance networks like Sovrin, SSI pioneers are also developing localized ecosystem collaborations, the key dynamic that Scotland can replicate.
In Alberta the state owned bank ATB Financial is building ‘ACE’, the Alberta Credential Ecosystem, a local collaboration of organizations beginning to adopt SSI and achieve integrated services through sharing SSI credentials.
What this highlights is that both global and local collaboration is key. Where global ecosystems like Sovrin enable the core inter-operation, there is still a need for localized collaborations to operationalize these capabilities, even in the simple terms of building partner relationships through meet ups and workshops. From these comes the realization of how and where to apply the technology to best deliver mutually beneficial business results.
In this video Andy Tobin of Evernym proposes Scotland should develop their own ‘credential ecosystem’, emulating Alberta’s approach.
Using examples of physical documents like drivers licences, Andy explains how these are identity credentials that are used to prove who we are to facilitate business processes, such as opening a new bank account, and the essence of Digital Identity is the digitization of these documents and these proofing functions, so that their equivalent purpose can be replicated online.
Building A Scottish National Blockchain Network
This collaboration and ecosystem would provide a foundation for the implementation of a Scottish National Blockchain Network.
An example of this is the Spanish Alastria project, a model achieved through a consortium of small and large organizations and some government agencies, who collaborate to define and implement a shared, common Blockchain infrastructure, built atop SSI.
From 7:00m it is explained how the ecosystem this makes possible, with different market entities fulfilling roles such as User, Service Provider and Attester, a system for securely sharing identity credentials to underpin integrated digital services.
The Scottish Common Blockchain – Platform for nationwide digital transformation
To begin to identify how this collaboration might take shape, and importantly, what benefits it could deliver for Scotland, we can refer to articles from local Scottish pioneers. A critical step is to connect these technological capabilities with equally visionary policy ideas, such as:
Business for Scotland describe the ‘Scottish Common Blockchain‘, how it would act as a public utility with many possible use case scenarios, such as enabling a new national currency and secure online voting. Tireless advocate for Blockchain-secured voting Yesdayscotland defines how this would usher in a new era of digital democracy for Scotland.
Also tireless advocates for a better future Scotland the CommonSpace team publish an amazing breadth and depth of policy innovation reports, many of which could be implemented and accelerated through these types of technology capabilities. In particular their Case for a Scottish Payments System is especially pertinent here.
Very importantly the report articulates a ‘target architecture’, an end goal for transformation efforts that realize significant benefits and cost savings for Scotland, achievable through replacing the commercial banks and credit card processors with a non-profit entity, meaning those vast profits are reinvested back into the social needs of the country.
This would be in addition to massive efficiency savings also netted across the public sector. They describe local governments making use of the service, but there are a multitude of other scenarios too. For example the plans to devolve some Social Security powers includes programs such as The Regulated Social Fund, Discretionary Housing Payments and powers to top up reserved benefits. These could all call upon a common capability.
To the point of this article it would also mean that:
“payment infrastructure was already in place in the event of a vote for independence. As the Scottish government would already have control of payments in the digital economy the switch-over from Sterling to a Scottish currency would be easier as the technology would be under the Scottish government’s control to allow this to happen.”
This article only scratches the surface of the myriad of use cases that a common Blockchain Identity platform could enable, a multitude of others are possible, but even with only those describing a wholesale transformation of Scotland’s democracy and government service delivery infrastructure, it is clear just how breathtakingly wide and deep this transformation could be.