The technology exists to deploy a trusted system of global self-sovereign identity; the problem is getting stakeholders round the table to agree on widespread adoption.
The emergence of blockchain-based verification closes the technology gap, it is argued, allowing individuals to take control of their data in such a way that it will also be trusted by governments, banks, regulators and so on.
Enter ObjectChain Collab, a research and proof-of-concept project looking at making individual, distributed ID a reality. The group has brought together financial institutions and regulators from across the globe, as well as legal professionals and representatives of the charitable sector. As such, the initiative has been described as the "R3 of distributed identity".
Paul Ferris, managing director at ObjectChain Collab, told IBTimes: "There are many projects investigating the feasibility of a fundamental change in the approach to identification and KYC/AML.
"The major impediment to adoption is not the technology, but the breadth of the impact, and so the 'problem of adoption'. Here is a set of excellent ideas, underpinned by technology that can enable adoption, which relies on multiple parties across the globe to agree that their own objectives are served and indeed improved by supporting Self-Sovereign Identity.
Ferris warned these ideas could be left by the wayside if the "tipping point" of realisation by the various stakeholders comes late, or even separately.
"We believe this is the main challenge to adoption. Technology is not the only solution space, other social and regulatory stakeholders are just as important.
The power and value of self-sovereign identity requires a common platform, implemented concurrently, which is open source, and based on international open standards.
Ferris talked about ObjectChain Collab's progress at a workshop on identity at Consensus NYC a couple of weeks ago. He outlined their collaboration of regulated businesses (banks, insurance, legal, etc) which included the close involvement of the Financial Conduct Authority and their technical architecture (D.id) that informs this approach.
He said Phase 1 of this Collaboration in Distributed Individual Identity has been delivered in full. This phase was supported by a a major international bank.
In detail, ObjectChain Collab has brought banks and other regulated companies and built a proof of concept, embodying many of the architectural elements of D.id (smart contracts, secure crypto schemes, blockchain & secure data storage).
It has also participated in the FCA's "RegTech" program, involving them in the collaboration's discussions. In addition the Financial Action Task Force are collaborating and looking to the prospect of establishing the regulatory approach across the globe, noted Ferris.
"The collaboration is progressing to test the hypothesis in other regulatory domains. This is happening with the help of the FCA 'credentialing' us to other national regulators. This also makes it easier for companies to participate from other countries (some of the initial Phase 1 Banks were based outside Europe), and include the cooperation and input of the relevant regulators in each country.
"At first flush, it seems that our approach would require no new laws to be enacted, and that the approach lent itself well to the fundamentals of existing regulation.
"There is even the prospect that regulation could be simplified, rather than new regulation created. It turns out that broadly Self-Sovereign Identity conforms with many fundamental objectives of regulation, perhaps far better than the current approaches."
The plan for Phase 2 is to split crucial areas down into multiple workstreams. A professor of law will lead the legal stream, while the economic issues will include the involvement of a leading and internationally respected university.
"ObjectChain is also a part a collaboration addressing the needs of the third sector with our work coordinated by an internationally experienced senior executive who has worked inside a number of NGOs. Standards work will develop towards ISO and, of course the regulation stream will involve active participation of the regulators themselves.
"The main collaboration meetings will remain London-based, coordinating the inputs to the various research workstreams, with complementary meetings occurring in each participating regulatory domain. The next 'development sprint' will include expanding our Technical Build, addressing the universal architectural model we are applying," said Ferris.