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What does identity mean in today’s physical and digital world? If you take this to the extreme as we did recently at the ID2020 Summit on Identity and alignment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, specifically 16.9, the problem becomes even more complex. Identity systems have an opportunity to solve for some physical world problems, but these problems are exacerbated by unique and complex conditions across the globe. imageThe opportunity is humbling and the problems and people involved are awe inspiring and require us to think about this responsibly and at scale. A few staggering numbers:

  • 1.5B people are without proper identification, that’s one-fifth of the world’s population.
  • One in three children under the age of five does not officially exist because their birth has not been recorded.
  • Cumulatively, 230M children under the age of five have no birth certificate; this number is growing.
  • 50M children are born without legal identity, the size of the UK, each year.

Without legal identification, children and people are invisible to society which makes them most vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and child abuse. To that end Target 16.9 of the UN SDGs seeks to provide legal identity to all by 2030, including birth registration. Faced with such a daunting task, the result is often inaction because it is hard to grasp a starting point. To help set a shorter term goal, ID2020 has created a work back milestone, though still massive, to provide scalable legal digital identity solutions by 2020. These solutions can then be rolled out to hit the 2030 goal of Target 16.9. How can we start working toward this ambitious goal today?

image  The ID2020 forum has provided an opportunity to bring together the technology sector with those who best understand the social and cultural challenges in question. While we don’t profess to have solutions to these overwhelming problems today, we can start where the open source community is best: collaboration. To progress toward these goals we have been working with partners to address identity using the self-owned or self-sovereign qualities of blockchain technology.

Microsoft is collaborating with partners Blockstack Labs and ConsenSys, and developers across the globe on an open source, self-sovereign, blockchain-based identity system that allows people, products, apps, and services to interoperate across blockchains, cloud providers, and organizations. Our goal in contributing to this initiative is to start a conversation on blockchain-based identity that could improve apps, services, and more importantly, the lives of real people worldwide by enabling self-owned or self-sovereign identity.

An implementation of self-sovereign identity can be established using the qualities of blockchain based systems and we have chosen to start collaborating with two partners with considerable blockchain identity expertise. We are working with Blockstack Labs and ConsenSys to leverage their current Bitcoin and Ethereum-based identity solutions, Blockstack and uPort. Through this open source collaboration we intend to produce a cross-chain identity solution that can be extended to any future blockchains or new kinds of decentralized, distributed systems.

There are many questions that remain unanswered, but we can imagine a world where an individual can register their identity in a cross blockchain fashion, providing a single namespace for lookup regardless of blockchain of choice. The self-sovereign nature of the solution enables many scenarios and becomes an asset owned by the individual, with attributes doled out on a time bounded basis only to parties with a need to know. In the coming weeks an open source framework will be made available on Azure, where developers will be able to quickly set up an instance and begin exploring how an open source identity layer can benefit their applications.

We are excited to find out the amazing things developers and organizations will build on this open source identity framework. We are equally excited by the potential societal benefits that can be derived from an identity that transcends borders, blockchains, organizations and companies. 

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