Refugee Land — The Evolution of Biometrics, Blockchain, and Self-Sovereign ID
According to the UNHR, approximately 70.8 million people worldwide are recorded as forcibly displaced. Among them, nearly 25.9 million have refugee status and another 3.5 million are Asylum-seekers. Another 2.8 million are considered by the UN as ‘stateless’, meaning, persons who do not possess the nationality of any State, therefore denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement. (UNHR).
For some perspective, these figures are 5 million short of the entire population of Canada. Based on the UNHR’s Global Resettlement report, trends already project an estimated increase of about 1.44 million refugees globally in 2020. Considering escalating geopolitical tensions in South America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, plus the elevating risk of climate-refugees, it’s not egregious to speculate that a displaced population equivalent to the size of a country will be realized within the new decade.
2020 will mark the highest levels of population displacement ever. As each country strikes a balance between refugee resettlement and domestic sentiment of new entrants it begs the question; Will displaced people ever be able to go back home?
A Refugee Crisis is an Identity Crisis
In order to participate in an economy, engage in resettlement and services, and reintegrate into society there must exist a record of identity.
For the most part, population data is collected by larger humanitarian organizations as displaced people are resettled into temporary camps. As these operations accumulate increasingly larger volumes of personal and sensitive data, the risks of misuse grow. Predatory states or individuals could exploit information that includes the names, ages, gender, and needs of millions of people requiring assistance. (Source)
An ID should enable participation across institutional and international borders and across time.
All forms of identity should provide ownership over the storage and use of personal data.
Identity should be transportable, accessible, and resistant to censorship.
The opportunity for Biometrics, Blockchain, and Self-Sovereign Identity (SSID)
When considering displaced people, an attempt to solve an identity crisis must also advocate for self-sovereign solutions whereby individuals have control over their identification.
The emergence of biometric and blockchain technology provides a unique opportunity. By storing information on an encrypted medium, the authentication system for one’s data (biometrics) can be separated from the identification credentials, thus helping to protect privacy. Blockchain systems also offer an enhanced level of security than conventional identity records because they cut out third-party intermediaries. Due to biometric innovations, access to blockchain data is transportable with less risk than holding on to private keys. Due to the decentralized nature of the blockchain, the data can survive disasters that might wipe out a more centralized record-keeping system. This decentralized structure also makes SSID censorship resistance, meaning that no central authority can wipe out any records stored on the blockchain.
Self-sovereign identity is key, especially for migratory populations or at-risk/ oppressed populations where a central authority is non-compliant and, in some cases, non-existent.
Taking measures to provide displaced populations with an identity has been the central work of organizations like ID2020 and the UNHR who have been working on biometric-based blockchain identity solutions since the Syrian Refugee crisis in 2017.
To recap displaced populations, require identity solutions, and blockchain provides a unique opportunity because:
- Countries with an open-boarder policy have the right to request identification from entrants in order to ensure the safety of their own citizens but do not need to have access to the entirety of a person’s data.
- Displaced individuals would be more able to provide a record of skill, assets, credit rating, education credentials, medical health, etc. — all which contribute to a more effective resettlement process.
- Pairing identity with wallet applications allows refugees to transact within a global marketplace, on the case that countries accept displaced people but do not provide opportunity for work.
The evolution of SSID, Social Pressure Systems
The evolution of self-sovereign digital identity is within the ability for displaced individuals to affect pressure on bad actors from their country of origin, without posing risk to themselves or their families.
In 2019, the African nation of Gabon responded to rigged elections in an unconventional way. Protected by geographic distance, expatriate citizens of Gabon used social media to encourage their domestic counterparts to participate in a fair election by voting and by recording the counting process with their smartphones. Although corruption still penetrated the election, the story is still telling; those who are sheltered by geographic distance can be well-positioned (or in some cases better positioned) to inspire change at home. To hear the whole story, listen to this podcast from Radiolab (Source)
This system of social pressure from a distance can take form as:
- Sending and receiving of funds
- Participatory voting
- Lobbying to the United Nations or other humanitarian groups
- Free, anonymous speech (media outlet)
- Access to information that may otherwise be censored
Held within Blockchain technology is an opportunity to protect the identity of vulnerable people, provide ownership over credentials, and a platform to be heard and take action without necessitating the aid of an intermediary. Whether it be a communication function, a wallet function, or something else, unless displaced populations have a means of applying social pressure, they risk becoming mute, forgotten, and ultimately permanently displaced.