K(NO)W Identity Conference: Decentralizing Digital Identity

The inaugural K(NO)W Identity Conference is currently underway in Washington, DC, and FindBiometrics is there in person at this great meeting of the leading minds in global identity technology. K(NO)W is unique as a trade show, operating on a high conceptual level rather than drilling down into a specific vertical where digital identity is used. As such, the various keynote presentations and panels have been on a diverse range of topics, all connected through a common theme of identity.

K(NO)W Identity Conference: Decentralizing Digital IdentityA common motif that has emerged from K(NO)W—which runs through tomorrow—is a notion that decentralizing identity data is a high priority in achieving optimum convenience, security, and privacy as we assert ID-based permissions. The call for decentralization was introduced at the top of the conference, during the opening keynote presentation, in which NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggested that too much data is being collected by service providers. Sowden even went so far as to suggest that life without true centralized identity is preferable, and indeed moral.

“When we have people that can be tracked on the basis of the records, and there’s no way to live outside of this context, this chain of records, what we have become is a quantified spider web of all of our worst decisions,” said Snowden reaching the end of his Q&A with Manoush Zomorodi, host and managing editor of the Note to Self podcast.

“And this may be the most wonderful thing in the world for people who work in the insurance industry or something, but it’s a very negative thing for free and open society, because now everybody in the world will think twice before they even open their mouth, because they’re wondering what that’s going to look like in the database,” continued Snowden.

While such proclamations might first read as dramatic, Snowden’s call for users to be in control of their data is not controversial. Indeed, at a subsequent presentation, Trusted Digital Identity Networks: A Journey Towards Self-Sovereign Identity, we learned that a privacy-first, decentralized identity ecosystem is exactly what IBM, TD Bank, and SecureKey are striving for.K(NO)W Identity Conference: Decentralizing Digital Identity

The decentralized identity solution outlined in the presentation is a commercial, open ecosystem that aspires to frictionless security and privacy. Based on the sharing of attributes rather than the divulging of one’s entire body of data, the system borrows what worked from the old manual systems of identity assertion—namely that the consumer was in control of their data and the issuers and relying parties had no idea where you were asserting your identity—and improves on them in terms of security and convenience by eliminating honeypots of user data and leveraging what IBM VP of Blockchain Technology Jerry Cuomo calls a “permission blockchain.”

For an easy example, in the physical world, if you choose to assert your identity by showing your driver’s licence, the government body that issued it does not know where and when you revealed it to a relying party. With the open ecosystem solution proposed by TD, IBM and SecureKey, you can choose a digital identity document, like your bank ID, and present it to a relying party without anyone but you knowing the full story: your bank doesn’t know the relying party, the relying party does not know the bank, and your network operator is blind to the transaction too. Meanwhile, all the data is staying where it originated. Your bank ID is at the bank, your SIN is with the government, et cetera.

Conceptually, decentralized identity avoids falling into the dystopian identity class divide Snowden outlined. By putting the consumer in charge of what data they wish to share, and keeping every other party in the dark as to who, where, and why this data is being used for identification, we can potentially achieve a situation that enhances our freedom while keeping us safe, secure, and in control of our privacy. It is efficient, empowering, safe, and achieves the promise of digital identity while putting the human it’s attached to first.

Stay posted to FindBiometrics as we continue to bring you more of the thought leadership emerging from the inaugural K(NO)W Identity Conference.