Distributed ledger identity: misplaced trust
Distributed ledgers have a role to play in identity verifications, but there are potential pitfalls, state Professor Michael Mainelli and Vinay Gupta. They are increasingly touted as the answer to the identity problems plaguing finance and government. They may well be part of the answer, but more important is recognising they are only tools to help us tell the identity ‘stories’ we need to make finance and society work.
People talk about ‘finding themselves’ or ‘losing themselves’. We talk about friends who have ‘changed out of all recognition’, but the restaurant happily believes they are the same person as their valid credit card. For people that do find themselves the result may be a higher quality of life and a less turbulent mind, less self-doubt or similar benefits, but they never quite seem to be able to explain what it is that they found, much less how a third party might validate it. You probably don’t know who you are. And if you do, you probably can’t tell me about it in a way that communicates it to me.
There are a lot of identity projects underway trying to provide new hardware, software, systems, and organisational approaches to identity. Identity is expensive for financial services where know-your-customer, anti-money-laundering, and ultimate-beneficial-owner requirements cost a lot. Yet the answer to “what is identity?” is obvious. Governments, police, financial institutions, credit rating firms, social networks, copyright lawyers, probate lawyers, websites and blogs all know it. Obviously identity is …
- your physical body;
- a government identifier such as a tax or social security number;
- status as incapacitated, a married couple or triple, a minor who can drink, enlist, vote or drive;
- your bank, mortgage, insurance, or credit card account;
- the network of people you know and the nature of those relationships;
- your community reputation;
- your capability to do something, a skill;
- the sum of your decisions made and your propensity to make new ones;
- proof of memory, such as a username/password combination;
- a cryptographic pair of public and private keys;
- a continuous and persistent sense of self or selfhood, “I”;
- a metaphysical construct, a “true self” or soul;
- proof of intention, what you wanted to happen after you died;
- a story woven around a persistent image of a human being.
Temporary answers like “I am Pat’s mother” can be factually true but miss the core of a person’s identity. The sum of all the roles we play seems to fall short of describing the totality of our identity. There is something in the whole which is beyond description. And we’re supposed to write software about this???!
The is an excerpt. The full article is available in the February 2016 edition of Banking Technology. Click here to read the magazine online.
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