Syrian refugees waiting to cross into Turkey
The refugee crisis, global people trafficking and financial inclusion are all driving the urgent need for digital identity solutions Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Ethereum production studio ConsenSys is working with Microsoft and Blockstack Labs to create an open-source, self-sovereign, blockchain-based identity system.

The partnership rallied developers from around the world as part of the recent Identity ID2020 conference at the United Nations in New York. The aim is to construct a system to thwart the human rights crimes exacerbated by lack of legal identification. The conference, which comprised UN members, private companies, and government agencies, addressed the goal of establishing a legal identity for every person without identification by 2020.

The ID2020 conference highlighted some sobering statistics. For instance, some 1.5bn people (a fifth of the world's population) do not have proper legal identification. Human trafficking accounts for a black market of $50m annually, and one of three known victims are children under the age of five.

ConsenSys has developed the uPort Identity solution, with integrated support for our reputation system and wallet system. uPort revolutionises identity creation and management for potentially 7.4bn people on the planet. Self-sovereign identity is the ability to be responsible for your own identity elements. A tightly integrated, persistent and portable reputation system will enable people in developed economies to have greater privacy and control of their identity and assets, said ConsenSys in a statement. And people in less developed areas can bootstrap their identities and reputations to become enfranchised in the emerging digital global economy.

"The tight integration of RepSys, our multifaceted, multi-tiered reputation system enables people, organisations and objects to attest to the conduct of their counterparties with respect to various kinds of transactions: buying/selling, lending/borrowing/repaying, working together on projects, gaming interactions, and data quality and reliability," said ConsenSys.

The uPort system serves as a container for reputational attributes like email addresses, Facebook URLs or state issued ID. Identity providers like governments, banks and IT companies can cryptographically sign such attributes attesting to their validity using "reputational attestations".

This means the two-plus billion people in the world who don't have state issued ID, can have their community members attest to their personal information, essentially vouching for them to enable them to develop and use this bootstrapped persistent portable reputation. This could be used to secure micro-loan on a decentralised lending platform and grow a small livelihood from there, for example. For access to financial services offered by financial institutions in different jurisdictions, financial institutions and users can make use of a KYC tool built on top of uPort and RepSys.

Users of uPort are fully in control of their personal information (expressed as reputational attributes). This encrypted information may be selectively and granularly shared with targeted counterparties when the user deems it to his or her advantage; disclosing more information may avail a user of a larger loan, or better terms, said ConsenSys.

Christian Lundkvist, lead software architect of uPort noted, "I'm very excited about this collaboration which promises to radically expand the reach and user base of self-sovereign digital identity systems. With this project we are taking a big step towards empowering people who suffer from the lack of identity, as well as streamlining the fragmented identity systems in our modern society."

Rouven Heck, product manager of uPort added: "The massive usage increase in smartphones and the internet combined with blockchain technology offers a great opportunity to solve identity issues for everyone. Reliable digital identity and reputation will create trust in the digital world which will fundamentally change the economy. This collaboration is a great foundation to realise the necessary adoption independent of the underlying technologies."

Sam Cassatt, chief strategy officer of ConsenSys said, "This project represents meaningful progress towards accessible, powerful identity for our world. If successful, we will enfranchise a significant portion of the global population that was previously disenfranchised, and democratise access to the rapidly evolving global financial system."