During the inaugural ID2020 summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, representatives from over 50 technology businesses discussed the world's Identity problems, including representatives from at least half dozen blockchain-centered companies.
The purpose of the annual event is to make sure that every human being has access to identity services, even if they have no state-issued identification. “One fifth of the world's population is without legal identity” the ID2020 website states. "Without legal identification people are invisible to society and vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution, and child abuse."
ID2020 is a not-for-profit corporation, that’s attempting to build a platform for harnessing innovation and enabling emerging digital technology, “to address the challenge of creating legal identities for vulnerable populations.”
"The invitation-only summit will identify the problems, approaches and requirements necessary to move this effort from idea to reality."
The corporation aims to find a solution for providing a legal digital identity for every person without identification by 2020, and then “roll out to at least 1 billion at risk people," by 2030.
This goal is directly aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted by world leaders at the United Nations on 25 September 2015. ID2020 states that thirty percent of the world’s population, approximately 1.5 billion people, lack a legal identity, leaving them vulnerable to legal, political, social and economic exclusion.
To tackle the problem, the corporation is creating a hub inspired by SDG 16: “The promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”
Many challenges stand in the way of reaching these goals, one of which is access to online identity management services. Many of the summit's attendees expressed that technology, specifically the proliferation of inexpensive smartphones, is now bridging that gap. The challenge then becomes helping people with no online access.
Attendees often talk about "the last girl" without an identity. The last girl represents the ultimate benchmark of success, a person whose circumstances are so bad that getting them an identity may seem impossible.
Quite often speakers talked about the last girl reaching out to a decentralized entity to grant them their identity, not their own government. Speakers propose that the only way for the last girl to get an ID is to find it for herself, perhaps from an international group that has no specific national affiliation.
During a press conference held before the event, summit representatives made it clear that no solutions would be chosen that day. The event was aimed at presenting the problems for technology providers, who are expected to custom-build their solutions. It was a forum for dialog between those in the tech world with potential solutions, and those in the field that see the problem every day.
"#ID2020 No, seriously: lots and LOTS of #blockchain."
- Bryce Clark on Twitter
A subject matter often discussed at the event was whether or not the goals are plausible. Jeff Garzik, core bitcoin developer and co-founder of Bloq, was on hand to answer the question head-on. “Yes,” he is reported to have said on twitter. “It's possible to achieve identity for all by 2030.” Garzik was one of many representatives from blockchain focused companies, and clearly the one with most bitcoin experience.
Writer Alex Tapscott, the author of this year's bestselling novel 'Blockchain Revolution' and the CEO of Northwest Passage Ventures, was given time to present on how the blockchain will represent the Internet of Value.
Gabriel Abed, the CEO of Caribbean-based digital asset exchange Bitt was present to speak about blockchain use in the developing world. BitFury Group, which makes blockchain hardware, sent their Global Chief Communications Officer, Jamie Smith, who gave a full presentation on blockchain technologies.
Blythe Masters, the CEO of Digital Asset Holdings and former JP Morgan executive, also spoke at the event. Master's represented the best funded blockchain company in the room, with plans to utilize private, permissioned blockchains. Melanie Shapiro, CEO of Case Wallet Inc. focused on the importance of Biometrics. Her hardware company makes the only bitcoin wallet with an integrated fingerprint reader.
Vinny Lingham, former CEO of Gyft, and now the CEO of Civic technologies, spoke to the attendees as well. Lingham is a well-recognized entrepreneur in the blockchain space. Civic is attempting eliminate new account fraud and prevent online identity theft, by creating an 'Identity Network' where consumers can confirm their own identity in real-time.
"Last 20 yrs every point in ID tech, there's been fear or fact of centralization. Now can have decentralized approach"
- Marc Hochstein on Twitter
When blockchains weren't specifically mentioned by name, many solutions touted decentralization, and presentations often pointed out that governments should, or could, not be the holder of an identity database. They reasoned that such important data should be in a global, public database of some kind, which is now possible.
An unaffiliated two-day workshop, eight blocks away at the Microsoft technology center, immediately followed the event. The ID 2020 Design Workshop has many of the same attendees and speakers from the UN event, mixed with many more in the bitcoin and blockchain space. The stated goals of the workshop are to “bring together the top contributors in decentralized identity,” while showcasing use cases requiring decentralized identity and trust, and discuss and suggest approaches to drive adoption of these technologies.
Running all day Saturday and Sunday, the group primarily plans to generate whitepapers from their time together, five of which are available from a previous event, which was held without an adjoining UN summit.“This design workshop event is neither operated nor affiliated with Identity2020 Systems Inc. or the ID2020 Summit,” their page says. “We will be addressing the technical side of some issues that will be discussed on the summit agenda.”