The concepts of verifiable credentials and self-sovereign identity have been shrouded in mystery and potential complication for end users trying to sort out what it actually is, how to tell when it’s not, and more importantly, which vendor they should trust (and why) when the user first discovers these concepts.
Verifiable credentials and self-sovereign identity aren’t new concepts. For example, Evernym did a great job in this blog post at explaining what self-sovereign identity (underpinned by verifiable credentials technology) actually is, how businesses can easily use it, and what it means in terms of security, in a "explain it to me like I'm five" kind of way.
When done in a privacy-preserving way (no personal information is ever logged onto a ledger, even in hashed form, unless you want it to be), this technology fundamentally shifts everything in the way we make statements or claims about ourselves or other people, organizations, or things.
To top it all off? It's possible for the user to choose which piece (or combination of pieces) of information to share, with who, and under what restrictions, and without having to have those same pieces of information stored in some central database somewhere.
It's the stuff that makes privacy experts and GDPR enthusiasts involuntarily drool.
I'm excited to see that the technology is more openly and now rapidly, touching other industries. The original technology is first and foremost about identity attributes as verifiable credentials, but for me it goes far beyond that.
To me, that's just where the possibilities begin.
Any Kind of Credential, not just Identity
The technology already stands and is built in for almost any type of credential you want to verify.
The ability now exists to provide hard, nearly tamper-proof ways of being able to prove statements made by you or someone else. This, right here, is the backbone and in my opinion, the key to solving the issues of trust between individuals, companies, governments, and other entities.
You can combine your credentials (claims you make about yourself), just like you do now with paper credentials, to prove certain statements you make, but in a privacy-preserving and much more secure and trustworthy way. You can now verify the source of the information, along with the information itself.
In other words, you can make statements about yourself, your situation, your background, or your experiences, and have it verified in a matter of seconds (for shorter claims) and maybe minutes for much longer ones.
This leads to deep and wide, life-changing use cases, across several industries.
What would it be like?
- What would it be like for Recruiters to be able to instantly verify job or salary history prior to submitting candidates for open positions?
- What would it be like for a mortgage company to be able to verify all of the information entered on the documents prior to submitting the documents to underwriting? Could there be some cost savings involved?
- What would it be like for landlords to be able to nearly instantly verify a potential tenant’s residential history while screening their applicants?
- What would it be like for insurance companies to be able to know the facts of a situation while processing a claim, for all parties involved? Could investigations become shorter and claims processed faster? Could there be less litigation involved? Could this make prosecuting fraud more effective?
- What would it be like for health care providers and patients alike to be able to verify the credentials of their doctors, nearly instantly, and on demand, regardless of the type or specialty?
- What would it be like if someone could know, nearly instantly, the true and correct source(s) of the information they’re reading, regardless of the platform or publisher the user is getting it from?
- What would it be like for the court systems if the credentials of every single officer of the court (including the local sheriff) could be validated on the spot, prior to trusting personal information to them? Could the damage caused by those who are illegally posing as officers of the court be stopped before it begins?
- What would it be like for people dealing with multiple government agencies across state lines? Would people still have to call a DMV in one state for them to fax paperwork to some obscure office of another state's DMV just to clear up some administrative paperwork delay? Or could they now just present the credentials: their fine has been paid, hold's have been released, or that yes, their CDL credentials and endorsements are legit, and the person standing at the counter could simply see that what they're saying is true without waiting?
- What about the undocumented refugees in other countries? What would it mean for them, to be able to prove their identity, their original home country, or their birth dates, when all of their documents were destroyed in war?
- What about people who find themselves caught up in the world of human trafficking? Being able to prove who they are, even though their identifying documents have been taken from them, is sometimes the key to rescue.
These, my friend, are just the very tippy top (just a shaving really) of a much larger and extraordinarily beautiful iceberg.
After my exposure to this technology, I began to see how this technology could directly affect the legal, law enforcement, and forensics industries.
Anything you say, can and will be held against you.
If you've ever dealt with law enforcement, any kind of matters dealing with the courts, or have been involved in any kind of investigation, you know first-hand about:
- the invasive questions,
- the waiting,
- the lies that may be told by opposing individuals,
- and the time, mess, and the mental and financial drain involved in just having facts being admitted, heard, and or upheld by the those in authority.
- What would it be like if an attorney could know, nearly instantly, if most statements made in initial pleadings are true or false,-- before they get filed with the court and served on the other party? Could an attorney fight more effectively for their client or maybe avoid time-wasting cases altogether? What would this capability do for due process, discovery, depositions, and expert testimony, and cross-examinations?
- What would it be like if a potential client is able to instantly verify or nullify the accusations being levied against them, being able to prove to the attorney they're about hire -- just the essential and ultimate facts, without the background drama?
- What if the courts and Department of Child Support could verify DNA results to determine parenting before enforcement letters are sent, just because the system told them to? Would this save the administration money and make their enforcement efforts more effective?
- What if an individual can prove their true identity to the law enforcement officer on the spot, before they’re arrested for looking like someone else, or just happening to have the same name as someone the police are searching for?
- What would happen in the cases of evidence searches if the chain of evidence could be cryptographically proven without revealing sensitive information about either the accused or the victim?
- What would happen if the findings of the lab results are verified and logged with this technology? What would happen if attorneys could “search the ledger” to see which credentials have been revoked and why during their cases?
What would all of this mean for justice, criminals, false accusations, and the time it takes to process it all?
Wouldn't these capabilities change "the game" just a teeny-tiny bit?
Just think about that for a few minutes.
Trust me when I tell you, this goes on and on and on, right down through every process and procedure that currently exists for any industry. Seeing the possibilities that exist for the legal, law enforcement, and forensics industries, is nothing short of exciting.
It's the stuff that makes ME involuntary drool.
Keeping verifiable credentials technology, with privacy-preserving protocols, privacy-by-design methodologies, zero-knowledge proofs, and rules that state no personal information is ever stored (even in a hashed form) on a ledger is important. I would love to see it eventually adopted into the legal, law enforcement, and forensics industries.
Doing so, isn’t just a passion or a need. It’s helping Lady Justice keep her scales balanced, those with authority accountable, and removing the backlog of administrative delay and error found at every level in almost every process within legal, law enforcement, and forensics.
Verifiable credentials technology preserves truth first, so that law enforcement, officers of the court, their supporting staff, and those involved in investigations can do their jobs far more efficiently.
- Less mistakes are made.
- Less sorting of who’s telling the truth and who isn’t happens.
- Investigations, cases, and all other related matters are wrapped up more quickly and fairly for everyone involved.
- The financial blow back for administrations, departments, individuals, and families, are inherently reduced.
This technology changes lives for the better across every spectrum, when it comes proving personal identity attributes (like your birth date or eye color), and statements being made for or against a person (like those made on a resume or on pleadings that have been filed with a court). It can save reputations. It releases truth and equity from the bonds and prejudices of who has the most money, who’s in a hurry to clear their docket for the day, or who can verify (or obscure) the truth on paper and to the jury the most.
In some cases, it saves lives and rescues others.
The use cases are nearly endless. When you stop to break down processes with in processes of every day work, patterns, and behavior, you start to see how verifiable credentials, done in this privacy-preserving way can and just may be the "magic bullet" you've been waiting for.
The paradigm shift is here and it’s happening.
For more information about this technology, you can contact Evernym at www.evernym.com or Sovrin at www.sorvin.org.
This article was published first at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/rise-verifiable-credentials-technology-misty-s-bledsoe/ on 8/22/19.