future view

Self-sovereign identity reduces red tape

4 November 2019 • 4 min reading time

Self-sovereign identity (SSI) is a technical innovation that offers new ways of managing our privacy. It can also make life (digital or real) more convenient. For users, it makes filling in digital forms a piece of cake. Plus, government agencies and the business community get better data, cut costs and can reduce process lead times. TNO is investigating ways of making SSI suitable for specific applications.

Would you like to find out more?

To learn more about TNO’s research in the field of self-sovereign identity, please contact Rieks Joosten.

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SSI – or self-sovereign identity – involves cryptographic technologies, such as public-key cryptography and, in many cases, blockchain. These technologies give users control over what personal data is shared with whom, while enabling the recipients of such data to quickly validate it electronically. This enables digital information to be exchanged securely and efficiently.

Avoiding expense and irritation

“We at TNO are keen to explore specific applications for SSI. Perhaps the most important of these is filling in administrative forms electronically. For example, if you need a wheelchair, you first have to jump through numerous administrative hoops – so you end up repeatedly entering the same data. Various parties (such as your insurer and the local governmental authority) also require you to produce official documentation from a (health) specialist. In August 2019, the National Ombudsman issued a report entitled ‘Houd het simpel’ (Keep it simple). It shows that these processes are often very time consuming and irritating for those involved. They also involve considerable expense for the parties that have to validate the information in these forms. We estimate that Dutch organizations spend more than one billion euros on validation”, says Rieks Joosten of TNO.

Faster and more secure

SSI has the potential to make this more efficient and effective in the future. Organizations include a QR code or deep link on their physical or electronic forms. This enables an SSI app to electronically contact the SSI server and find out what data is required and what parties must have certified such data so that it can be trusted. The app can then retrieve this certified data – electronically – from the server. In this way, the app can retrieve your client number and insurance details from your health insurer, your personal details from government bodies, and so on.

“SSI can help to avoid situations in which people just ‘give up’ and miss out on services or benefits to which they are entitled”

As a user, data that now takes you weeks or months to collect – or which you sometimes even need to pick up in person – will be at your fingertips. In addition, organizations will receive data that is digitally certified by parties they trust, making validation much faster and much cheaper. Apart from the savings in terms of time and money, this method can help to avoid situations in which people just ‘give up’ and miss out on services and benefits to which they are entitled because they have become entangled in bureaucracy.

Real time and privacy friendly

Joosten points out that “The SSI app can also be used to retrieve other types of information. The SSI server can supply details about the purposes for which it will use the data. It can also list any data about the user that is already on record. In addition, the app can keep track of any permissions the user has given concerning the processing of personal data – and can have them revoked. This also does away with the need for passwords, as the SSI server can simply ask the SSI app who you are, which in turn can provide that information (that is certified by a party that the SSI server trusts) if you so wish. In short, SSI will make it possible for you to deal with all your affairs online and in real time, in a way that is entirely privacy friendly. In addition, it is up to you to decide which information you want to share with which parties.”

“People get to decide which information they wish to share with which parties”

However, these benefits are offset by various technological and organizational challenges that need to be resolved before SSI can be rolled out on a large scale. “For instance, we need to be a lot clearer about what exactly we expect from an SSI app. And how can the app check that the server is sound and trustworthy, and vice versa? In seeking answers to these types of questions, we want to cooperate with others (including parties in the technology sector), and get their products ready for the future”, Joosten stresses.

Testing in the SSI Lab

At the SSI Lab in Groningen, TNO is working within an ecosystem of different technologies and organizations that are keen to contribute to the development of specific SSI applications. The SSI Lab provides a sand-box environment in which to experiment with SSI technologies, both at the technological and business levels. For instance, features that require certified data can be simulated here. Also, it facilitates building apps for demonstration purposes and testing the effectiveness of specific technologies in everyday practice. “Sand-box environments like this are vital to the development of the SSI concept,” Joosten adds.

“The SSI Lab is a sand-box environment in which all kinds of features and benefits can be tested and demonstrated”

On 1 November 2019 the EU Cascaded Funding project ‘eSSIF-Lab’ (European Self-Sovereign Identity Framework Lab) has started. In this project, EU funds will be made available to SMEs and start-ups that want to build or improve SSI components. “The aim is to create a range of interoperable, open-source SSI components that people will actually use, not just in the Netherlands, but specifically also within Europe and perhaps world-wide.”, Joosten concludes.

Want to know how SSI works?

Watch the animation in which self-sovereign identity is explained.

Watch the video!
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