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Blockchain and securing a legal identity for all

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

The Future Citizen Institute has previously reported on the role of passports, and how holding different citizenships (especially of different regional blocs and organizations) has a major impact on one’s international mobility and life opportunities. At the same time, holding a particular passport can also be the expression of a precarious situation. Think for example of the Nansen passport that was issued to refugees in the early 20th century. Moreover, a considerable part of the world’s population currently does not have access to identity documents or even lack a legal identity (see target 16.9 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals which states that by 2030 everyone should have a legal identity).

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the ‘self-sovereign identity’ associated with blockchain technology has led UNHCR, academia and organizations from the private sector to assess the possibility of blockchain providing for a legal identity for all independently of any government interference. A number of refugee camps already run on blockchain.

It has also been predicted that in due course the traditional passport will be replaced by a digital identity which can be opened using fingerprints or biometric data, giving the owner more autonomy over who his/her personal data are shared with. Some commentators also expect it will help certain marginalized or persecuted groups. For example, it may remedy the Rohingya’s lack of an officially-recognized identity. Others are more sceptical and it is indeed questionable to what extent the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar is a problem that can be solved by a technological solution such as blockchain, rather than a longstanding ethno-religious conflict regarding who is part of the political community and who is not.

The Future Citizen Institute will continue to report on citizenship and technology. As rightly noted by Liav Orgad in his rejoinder to a GLOBALCIT forum debate on Cloud Communities: ‘Discussing [Blockchain and technology-related] concerns will keep theorists and policy makers busy in the years to come. While the focus of this debate [was] on global citizenship and virtual communities, I see it as a broader invitation to reflect on the nexus between new technologies and the future of citizenship’.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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