Managing Identity through a Distributed Ledger

By Deborah Dobson posted 03-28-2017 13:59


“You should be taking this technology as seriously as you should have been taking the development of the Internet in the early 1990’s.” 

– Blythe Masters

In the early days of the Internet, I was not in the technology industry, instead I worked for a business consulting firm focusing on healthcare, telecommunications, nonprofits and government agencies. Our consulting firm consisted of a network of consultants each working remotely out of our own home offices and well, let's just say, technology was not our forte. This was not for a lack of trying to figure out DOS computers and our modem to transfer data between us. Yet despite our technological struggles, the Internet intrigued us and we were excited about the possibilities of the new technology.

The same fascination I had for the early days of the Internet is what I feel today for blockchain technology. The potential impact of this technology on many industries, not only financial which gets much of the press, but healthcare, transportation, cybersecurity, music distribution, supply chain management and government (think voting) is going to be disruptive. I've already written about the impact of blockchain technology on the music, cannabis and legal marketing industry.

Before I focus on several other ways the technology can be applied, I'll describe briefly what blockchain is in case you don't have time to go back and read my primer. Blockchain is a distributed electronic ledger (Blockchain being one flavor) that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity. The record of events is shared between many parties and information once entered cannot be altered.

Identity Management

In today's digital age, an individual's identity is a collection of attributes including, but not limited to, name, age, financial history, work history, address history and social history. Individuals generally have little or no control over the information that comprises their identities.

Another challenge is that identity data is typically decentralized. For example, here in the US the Department of Motor Vehicles issues drivers licenses, while the Department of Homeland Security issues passports, banks have financial histories, etc. This makes identity management, protection and verification cumbersome, costly and risky for all industry enterprises and government agencies.

A number of startups are focusing on how to leverage the blockchain distributed ledger to prove your identity when you need to. Today I'll focus on ShoCard which wants to replace the cumbersome bank and credit card identification process. ShoCard co-founder Jeff Weitzman explains, "We've created a digital identity card that is as easy to use as a driver's license, but it's so secure that a bank can rely on it. We're using public and private keys, data hashing, multi-factor authentication."

  • Financial Institutions: ShoCard helps banks and online retailers authenticate users. Some examples on how the financial institution could leverage ShoCard include financial services credentialing, identity verification, automated registration and proof of age.
  • Airlines: ShoCard uses a blend of blockchain-based data and facial recognition techniques to streamline how airlines verify passenger identities as well as facilitate real-time data flows at the airport. A passenger can upload their travel documents, which are encrypted and hashed on the bitcoin blockchain. The passenger is provided a "single travel token," which is then presented to the airline in order to call up those documents using a public key.

To learn more about other projects/companies that are working on blockchain and identity, visit GitHub. Also visit this Slideshare on "Identity in the Digital World using the Blockchain."