Microsoft and Accenture develop blockchain ID system for refugees

The blockchain system would provide refugees with the ability to present their IDs via an app on their smartphones when required to access basic services such as education and healthcare.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor
(Image: Accenture)

Accenture and Microsoft have developed a digital identity prototype using blockchain technology as part of a humanitarian project to provide legal ID to more than 1.1 billion people around the world, including 7 million refugees, by 2020.

The prototype -- revealed this week at the second summit of ID2020, a public-private consortium promoting the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of providing legal ID for everyone -- combines a person's biometric information such as their fingerprint or retina scan with blockchain, the record-keeping technology that underpins cryptocurrencies, to create a legal identity.

When operational, the tool will provide refugees with the ability to present their IDs via an app on their smartphones at border crossings to prove they're coming from a refugee camp and qualify for aid.

The app will also enable displaced individuals to share their identities when required to access basic services such as education and healthcare.

"Approximately one-sixth of the world's population cannot participate in cultural, political, economic, and social life because they lack the most basic information: Documented proof of their existence," Accenture said in an announcement.

"Establishing identity is critical to accessing a wide range of activities, including education, healthcare, voting, banking, mobile communications, housing, and family and childcare benefits."

The prototype does not store personally identifiable information on a centralised system; rather, it inter-operates with existing identity systems of commercial and public entities so that such information always resides "off chain".

The prototype taps into off-chain systems when individuals grant access to their data, allaying concerns about the system being accessed by tyrannical governments that refugees are often fleeing from.

"Our prototype is personal, private, and portable, empowering individuals to access and share appropriate information when convenient, and without the worry of using or losing paper documentation," said David Treat, managing director at Accenture's global blockchain business.

The system is designed so that the person who owns the identity is the only one who can grant access to it; personally identifiable information cannot be stored or forwarded by third parties.

The prototype was built on top of Accenture's Unique Identity Service Platform, which powers the biometric identity management system used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and runs on Microsoft's cloud computing platform Azure.

Accenture and Microsoft -- which were among more than two dozen entities that formed an alliance to use the Ethereum blockchain code in February this year -- also collaborated on the prototype with managed service provider Avanade, and are seeking other companies to join their project.

At last year's ID2020, Microsoft, Blockstack Labs, and ConsenSys unveiled their blockchain-based identity system that will allow "people, products, apps, and services to inter-operate across blockchains, cloud providers, and organisations" around the world. The system was built to combat human rights crimes that centre around the lack of legal identification, such as trafficking, prostitution, and child abuse.

It has also been proposed that blockchain will play a role in addressing the security dilemma associated with the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) technology; for instance, Australian telecommunications company Telstra revealed that it was experimenting with a combination of blockchain and biometric security for its IoT smart home offerings, with the telco's principal security expert saying that the use of blockchain makes security across IoT devices much more efficient and cost-effective for organisations.

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