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The Future of Self-Sovereign Digital Identity Wallets

Decentralized approach for the Inclusion of all — vulnerable groups

Think about an 80 year old couple with a need of assistance in their daily life, who are digitally literate but cannot adapt quickly to any application in any digital device including mobile, traveling from one country to another for leisure. During visiting different cities they both demand special treatment and special service in each city. How can this elderly couple manage all of the bureaucratic processes themselves and can get services in different countries easily without any legal barrier and difficulty?

Today’s developments in digital technology provide us with different solutions to handle these kinds of issues whereas cross-border processes are very annoying because of legal and interoperability issues of each country and in between. The analysis of a group of pioneering developments of public services shows that blockchain technology can reduce bureaucracy, increase the efficiency of administrative processes and increase the level of trust in public recordkeeping. According to the JCR Science Policy Report on Blockchain for digital government published in 2019, it is stated that “based on the state-of-art developments, blockchain has not yet demonstrated to be either transformative or even disruptive innovation for governments as it is sometimes portrayed where ongoing projects bring incremental rather than fundamental changes to the operational capacities of governments, nevertheless some of them propose clear value for citizens.” (JRC Science for Policy Report, Blockchain for Digital Government, European Commission, 2019). On the other hand, the developments on the data space sharing and data strategy of the European Commission is promising where the regulation will create the basis for a new European way of data governance that is in line with EU values and principles, such as personal data protection (GDPR), consumer protection and competition rules. The Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act which aim to create a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of users are protected and to establish a level playing field for businesses put in place and will be in action as an obligation for application by 2024.

Access to essential services across the public and private sectors and trust between individuals, businesses, and governments rely on being able to prove one’s identity. Traditional identity verification involves physical proofs such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, ID cards, or passports. However, the digital transformation offers opportunities to consider technology for identity verification both online and offline. Digital channels now offer identity verification processes and access to authenticating verified identity claims through digital credentials and wallets, eID cards, and mobile ID applications. Despite the benefits of digital identity, in many countries there often remains a lack of cross-sector collaboration, interoperability, and poor-quality user experience. Governments must take a holistic approach that addresses the needs of all stakeholders and focuses on user experience and effectiveness throughout the digital identity lifecycle. There is great variety in governance models for digital identity systems and solutions, which has created fragmented systems of multiple accounts and solutions for governments, businesses, and users to manage (Draft Recommendation on the Governance of Digital Identity, OECD 2023).

Accordingly, the inclusion of all citizen groups including elderly, disabled people, immigrants, refugees and women in disadvantaged condition have a critical importance on the use of such mobile ID applications in their daily life. Looking at the four functions of digital identity which are credentials, user information, character information, and reputation, these vulnerable groups have practical, psychological and psychosocial, communicative and adaption to the new activities issues on the use of such applications. Since a digital identity is typically defined as a one-to-one relationship between a human and their digital presence, a digital presence can consist of multiple accounts, credentials, and entitlements associated with an individual and so the digital abilities and motivation on adapting to new activities and cultures play a crucial role. Besides the lifelong training and rehabilitation of those people, one should accept them as they are and the real adaptation must be on the governments and businesses providing services. Especially when it comes to cross-border, the issue becomes greater with international and cultural difficulties between countries.

Today, most commentators will describe three digital identity models: silo, federated, and self-sovereign. Overcoming all cross-border, inclusion, bureaucracy issues the Self-sovereign identity (SSI) can be selected as the best model for managing digital identities in which individuals or businesses have sole ownership over the ability to control their accounts and personal data as it was done in GLASS eGovernance Model. The GLASS eGovernance model is designed along four (4) core principles that enable a variety of innovative interactions among citizens, businesses and public authorities through an open, transparent, and secure approach. These core principles are:

  • digital by default

  • once-only principle

  • transparent by design

  • interoperable by design

At the core of GLASS, there is a blockchain infrastructure that hosts the wallet and all chaincode needed to provide supportive functionality (e.g., ABAC authentication, information sharing etc). Integrating with the decentralized components of GLASS requires the Secure Gateway to interact with the blockchain using mechanisms outside the GLASS wallet and dapps can be integrated into GLASS by using the dapp marketplace of the wallet.These approaches of GLASS provides the self-sovereign digital identity wallet use of cross-border services for citizens within the GLASS Concept and the ‘GLASS eGovernance Model’ where the citizen fully controls its own data by renovating existing standards and procedures, towards making the organizations more cost-efficient, robust and interoperable with its environment, transforming it into a key player in the GLASS ecosystem, based always on the services it can offer.

Additionally, GLASS strongly emphasizes the participation of the vulnerable groups as a key element on the implementation of a citizen-centric and ease to use e-Wallet by providing support and services to them which emerges the supportiveness to citizens to be fully integrated and personalized. In this respect, GLASS solves the main issues on how vulnerable groups can access and use digital identity wallets in cross-border services where SSI remains as the best concept to control their own data on the two aspects:

  1. the usability features (UX) where EU directives and guidelines are taken into account

  2. additional assistance approach with the use of proxies for the delegation of the use of the applications.

According to the survey for understanding the needs of citizens, the obtained results are remarkable as they significantly emphasize the importance of the security and privacy issues while sharing their evidences (like Citizen ID, Educational Diploma, and Passport) within their e-wallets while the majority (53%) would be willing to pay for e-Wallet offering premium services and this finding validates that GLASS would create value for citizens.

Furthermore, The GLASS eGovernance model constantly considers and eventually integrates new types of stakeholders, services and standards, therefore a feedback loop to the requirements analysis is designed, to re-trigger these operations that will result in upgraded versions of the model and its ingredients. GLASS eGovernance Model brings an impact potential to its ecosystem based on the benefit analysis results.

Accordingly, the conducted need analysis of the stakeholders shows us clearly how their expectations, attitudes, knowledge and experience required, emerging issues and main factors to focus on. Happily the obtained results are in line with the GLASS objectives in which stakeholders in general would trust GLASS if it is citizen centric where the citizen fully controls its own data. However with this, there are also some other expectations which seemed to be crucially important for the successful implementation of the GLASS eGovernance Model with the self-sovereign digital identity wallet; fully transferable and compatible with EU standards and the exploitations which will impact on digital governance improvement. The stakeholders who are mainly wallet developers, policy makers, government officers, IT infrastructure experts, standardization bodies, researchers, user groups, legal advisors, data providers and consumers which are business entities believe that this can be achieved by prioritizing widely adopted government infrastructures, EU Collaborations (EBSI, eIDAS, eIDAS2, SSI) and policies on e-Government and Data Strategy and Privacy, User Rights are within the GLASS e-Governance Model.

During all of the project activities from setting the user requirements and architecture, development and research phases, to the implementation of pilot demonstrators, their evaluations and stakeholder engagements and citizens’ perspectives, we have realized that the real challenge of the implementation of a citizen-centric cross-border e-government service was neither on the change of citizen behaviors nor in the technological developments, but mainly on the setting new global standards where all countries would adopt with their infrastructures. The digital transformation is now faster in the adoption of the development and usage but legal and regulatory aspects and governmental policies are leaving behind.

Thank you to Eda Telli Yamamoto and Erdem Gülgener for the collaboration.

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