Call to Action: Verifiable Credentials & COVID-19

Riley Hughes
Published in
4 min readApr 1, 2020


Shortly after Bill Gates posted on Reddit a few weeks ago, my notifications started blowing up. In response to a question about what businesses should stay open during this COVID-19 pandemic, he said:

Worldwide Pandemic

COVID-19 is an unprecedented pandemic that’s turned the global economy upside down in a matter of weeks. But the true cause of cities shutting down, sports leagues cancelling, and nationwide layoffs is not the novel Coronavirus per se. The true cause is uncertainty¹.

Because the virus reportedly has an incubation period of up to 14 days, it’s impossible to know who has the virus. That means everyone you come in contact with is a potential threat to you and your family, and given that, society’s rational response has been to reduce the number of people we come in contact with through social distancing, quarantine, and other measures. This effort is saving millions of lives, but costing millions of jobs. It’s reducing the burden on our medical system, but increasing the economic burden on people everywhere².

The degree to which uncertainty exists is the degree to which the economy must remain on lockdown. The degree to which we reduce uncertainty is the degree to which people can go back to work.

The longer the economy is on lockdown, the more harm is done to the most vulnerable groups of people³ and crucially important small businesses. The question logically follows: How do we reduce uncertainty and pick up our economy? I believe we need two things.

  1. We need to know whether we have the virus or not. That means we need lots of affordable tests. I won’t spend time on this point — the medical community is working at lightspeed to make this happen, and recent/upcoming FDA approvals look promising.
  2. We need to know whether others have the virus or not. We need to be able to share our status and verify the status of others. That means we need a scalable, privacy-respecting infrastructure for sharing trustworthy information. This is exactly the point Bill Gates was alluding to.

Trusted data

Gates suggests that a digital certificate is needed because it will enable people to share trustworthy information with others. In other words, it is a tool at our disposal to help us reduce uncertainty around the virus. As uncertainty is reduced, additional information enables risk decisions⁴ to be made to ensure our economy doesn’t slip into a total depression. More people can go back to work, faster.

Bill Gates’ comment on Reddit caught attention among my colleagues, customers, and partners because there is already a W3C technology standard to accomplish this called verifiable credentials (VC). Hundreds of organizations, including the largest companies in the world, are using VCs for all sorts of things. Verifiable credentials are like digital certificates but with special superpowers that give people privacy, control, and convenience.


Weeks ago, various partners and customers of ours began reaching out and discussing the possibility of using VCs to respond to the COVID-19 situation.

We’ve been collaborating with the self-sovereign identity and greater verifiable credentials communities to bring standardized credentials and governance to market. This effort is ongoing. The community has a Slack channel and a volunteer initiative between 60+ companies in which anyone is welcome to participate.


In line with our vision to make verifiable credentials more accessible to the world, Trinsic will provide our world-class tools and support to anyone working on something related to COVID-19 free of charge for a period of time. We believe verifiable credentials can play an important technical role in our global response to COVID-19.

With over 150 developers and companies using our full-stack SSI tools, Trinsic is an ideal platform to rapidly integrate verifiable credentials into any application or system. Over 15 companies are already using Trinsic to respond to the virus in different ways, and we welcome as many as are eager to get solutions to market. There are countless ways verifiable credentials can be applied to the crisis. Below are a few examples:

  • Senior care facilities need a way to verify the employees and visitors who enter aren’t infected
  • Doctors who want to practice via video call (Telehealth) can prove they’re actually doctors
  • Digitizing physical test results into a verifiable credential
  • Insurance and entitlement fraud prevention solutions
  • A more privacy-respecting contact tracing solution

Some of the applications of verifiable credentials to this pandemic are obvious while others are subtle. Some are niche and others are widely applicable. If you’re interested in getting involved in the initiative or building a solution, reach out to us at

¹ My argument here is more easily made by looking at the extreme case. If everyone on earth had an embedded screen on their hand that turned red when they were infected with COVID-19, then we would take efforts to quarantine those people and the rest of society could proceed as usual.

² This sentence shouldn’t be misinterpreted — I am in favor of the quarantine measures and strongly support the guidance of medical professionals. Economic cost is worth incurring to save countless lives. My point is simply that economic cost is very unfortunate for many people, especially the most vulnerable.

³ Mental illness, drug addiction, and “tremendous suicides” are some examples, as President Trump puts it in this video.

⁴ By risk decisions, I mean that everyone can autonomously decide how much risk they’re willing to take on. For example, an airline could specify passengers will only be allowed to board if they can present a negative result from a test that was taken in the last 2 hours. But the employee loading the bags into the plane maybe only needs to have taken a test in the last 48 hours. The policy can be set depending on the risk level of the activity.



Riley Hughes

Cofounder, CEO @trinsic_id | Former Sovrin Foundation