Digital Identity Conspiracies
by Christine Martin
I’ve been reminded via my Facebook feed just how heavily influenced we are by our data. Facebook is exceptionally good at showing me what it thinks I want to see. I’m not going to lie, they get it right probably 70% of the time, but I don’t think that’s always a good thing; it brings a lot of negativity to my feed due to the nature of my online activity. Lately, it’s the conspiracy theories surrounding the implementation of digital ID here in my home province of Ontario. Recently, a petition submitted to the Ontario legislature calling for the ban of digital ID garnered 21,000 signatures. I find this so bizarre because digital ID is already here. I’m left wondering if any of those 21,000 folks use Google or Apple pay?
I decided it would be an excellent time to address some of the misinformation head-on.
The claims regarding digital ID are:
- The government will have access to our personal information without our consent and centralize every citizen’s personal, financial, business, medical and social data and assign them an identification under this system.
- Digital ID will expose your demons, no matter how small, everywhere you go, and abuse by governmental authority in terms of surveillance and compelled behaviour, using access to basic resources as a tool of coercion.
- Lead to Identity theft.
Digital Identity Conspiracies: Myth 1
The government will have access to our personal information without our consent and centralize every citizen’s personal, financial, business, medical and social data and assign them an identification under this system.
This is not true. The government will only be able to access our information if we provide it to them directly, for example, if we use our digital ID to access government services. Every citizen’s personal, financial, business, medical and social information is already centralized. Your Driver’s License and Passport are not your property, and your unique identifier is your social insurance number. The government issues those credentials, and they remain their property.
Organizations like Google and Facebook hold your information in a centralized manner and make money off of it. We allow them to claim our data as their asset and make money off of it. When we decentralize, we take back ownership of our credentials and identity. We will be able to choose what we share and with whom, and we will have the ability to monetize our identity, just like Facebook and Google currently do.
Canadians in the private sector, not the government, were instrumental in the early days of SSI development. At this point, the Canadian government has no choice but to jump in and build our governance framework and align us with other countries leading to protect their citizens’ rights. For example, they are working with the European Union Framework, eIDAS.
Digital Identity Conspiracies: Myth 2
Digital ID will expose your demons, no matter how small, everywhere you go. You name it; the ID will show it. Opens up abuse of governmental authority in terms of surveillance and compelled behaviour, using access to basic resources as a tool of coercion.
Again, this is not true. Digital ID will only expose your demons if you share them…
We are being abused by organizations like Google and Facebook, monetizing our identities. Instagram, TikTok etc. it’s all there for everyone to see. When you pay with your phone’s wallet app, data is stored and collected on your spending habits. Police officers can look up your info with your driver’s license, and Google tracks your internet and location history, regardless of your settings. The list goes on and on. With a self-sovereign identity, you can control your data and what information you share with appropriate entities. SSI allows for seamless authentication and reduces the need for repeated submission of individual verifiable credentials.
The government will only be able to track our movements and activities if we provide them with this information ourselves, for example, by using our digital ID to access transportation services. Your verifiable credentials will not “talk” to each other. Only someone with the appropriate verifiable credential of their own can access your data (credentials) unless you choose to share your credentials with someone else.
So yes, your digital ID (wallet) can undoubtedly hold all of these credentials, but that’s all they are: individual verifiable credentials. They don’t “talk” to each other per se, and only someone with the authority credential, like a police officer, can see your driving infractions or criminal record.
If you are behind on child support, the Family Responsibility Office can get Canada Revenue Agency to garnish your tax account or the Ministry of Transportation to suspend your driver’s license. You’re already “punished” for lousy behaviour that likely won’t change. What will stay the same is only the person with the proper credentials can access your data. So while your “bad” behaviours will ultimately merge with your digital identity, a prospective employer or bank employee would not have the proper credentials to access those specific credentials within your digital wallet. SSI is our best defence against the possibility of a surveillance state as the credentials are shared without the Issuer knowing – and they can’t know.
Digital Identity Conspiracies: Myth 3
Digital ID will lead to identity theft.
Once again, this is a baseless claim that has no basis in reality. Digital ID will make identity theft far more complex as it provides a more secure and confidential identification method. The very nature of Blockchain technology makes them immune to cyber-crimes since all the copies stored across the network would need to be attacked simultaneously for the attack to be successful. This system will be much more secure than traditional authentication methods, such as username and password. Your personal information will be encrypted and only accessible to you.
Taking Back Your Rights
There are so many ways that adopting a self-sovereign identity can reduce costs, cut out waste and provide better security and control. Here are a few simple ways it could help you out:
- If you’re a small business, you can use the verifiable credentials to get validated and listed on directories like Google Maps or Yelp. People find your business more quickly, and it can also help you rank higher in search results.
- If you’re looking for a job, you can use the verifiable credential to prove your identity and qualifications to potential employers. You make the hiring process easier and faster since the employer can verify your information without contacting third parties.
- If you want to apply for a loan, you can share your credit history with the lender. They will be able to verify that the information is correct without having access to anything more personal information than they require.
- If you’re a student, you can use verifiable credentials to prove that you’ve completed your education or training, helping you make it easier to get into college or find a job in your field.
Self-sovereign identity is vital because it gives individuals control over their data; it is essential in an era where data breaches are becoming more common. Adopting a self-sovereign identity will allow users to take ownership and ensure that their data is safe and secure.
The only ones who will benefit from your digital ID are the Issuer (who gave you the credential), holder (you) and verifier (who you’re sharing it with). As the holder, you’ll have an opportunity to control, and perhaps even monetize your data with the verifier, say Facebook. You can choose to share as much or as little information as you want with the verifier, and you can also revoke access to your credentials at any time.
It’s hard to say what the future of SSI holds, but it’s important to remember that digital ID is all about taking back your rights, not surrendering them. It is about authentication, authorization and privacy. The trust economy of SSI is based on these foundations. As more and more people understand the value of SSI, its use will continue to grow. It’s imperative that people from diverse backgrounds and women, in particular, get involved.
If you’re looking for a project that can help ensure the future of digital ID, consider supporting the development of SSI. You can help by joining groups like Women in Identity, spreading the word about this critical technology and advocating for its adoption. Visit our blog, follow us on social media, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date and learn more about decentralized identity.