Rob Van Kranenburg: Why Sovereign Identity Is Inevitable
It is important to understand that the Internet and the Internet of Things combined change the very nature of ‘power’
Rob van Kranenburg is the Founder of Europe based Council_IoT and #iotday. He is among the Top 100 #IOT Influencers list. He wrote The Internet of Things. A critique of ambient technology and votary of transparency based on open-source internet, he is a global evangelist. This article is with a special arrangement with the author for GoNewsIndia.com exclusively:
Walk tall, or baby don’t walk at all! Bruce Springsteen
One of the many more noteworthy Zooms or Teams of late was a call with an expert, a civil servant, in the Netherlands. I mentioned that privatizing identity is similar to handing someone else the keys to the front door — after the State in its wisdom shifted agency on law (BXL), money (euro), instruments (privatized in the Entrepreneurial government episode), and data (GAFA) away from taxpayers — who in their kindness do still pay the salary of civil servants, to companies who cater to shareholders only. His answer was short and to the point: We may have put ourselves in a position that will require us to do just that, read; privatize ID management, just to be able to keep doing business as usual.
I mentioned that Dutch PM Mark Rutte would probably receive a phone call soon from his Belgian colleague PM Alexander de Croo to tell him about the Belgian success of ITSME.be:
“Through the launch of this new, free means of identification we are making it easier to use the government’s online services,” states Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Digital Agenda, Telecommunications and Postal Service. “Thanks to itsme®, the Belgian citizen can now access numerous public services online, wherever and whenever they want.”
Free as in?
It is a consortium of banks and telcos enabled by Microsoft. There is nothing government about it.
CEO de Ryck thinks that ITSME should be able to go relatively effortlessly to about 5 million accounts in Belgium. Now it has over two million.
It is quite possible that Alexander called his (neo) liberal friend Mark. What we know now is that also Dutch citizens can start enrolling in this fully commercial identity environment by scanning the NFC capabilities in the Dutch new ID cards.
Why would a Belgian Minister, now PM — hand over the last capability of the state: identification, verification, authorization, signing — to commercial actors who are only aiming to make more money?
We have a fully equipped, fully functional alternative to either fully privatized or technical solutions that call for baking in identity in the core layer of the internet protocol.
That framework is called Self Sovereign Identity. It is fit for the 21st century in that it can operate on the level of entity — disambiguating persons, objects, machines, robots, templates, scripts, animals, as well as act as a hard coding of the successful set of functions on privacy and security that is GDPR.
So now I can say: PEOPLE watch out! You are being robbed of your current and your future capabilities. Yes, you have other more pressing issues to worry about. Why should you take fifteen minutes to try and understand what is going on? Maybe if I tell you three things:
1. Your digital ID, how you sign into services will determine the price of everything that you buy, from meals, to hotels, to toilet paper. Any price from online bookings to supermarket items will be dynamic: context, time and YOU-specific
2. Your digital ID, how you sign into services will determine who will offer you services first, any service, based on the profile that they make of you without you having any insight into their algorithms.
3. Your digital ID, how you sign into services will script serendipity into your future as you will see and meet the things, the people, and the surprises laid out for you. And no, this is not science fiction.
Do I have your attention? Let me tell you three stories. They represent the scale and magnitude of the shift.
Do you remember when you let them send you to get killed in some nonsensical war? And you went? Do you know how they decide to go for it? Richard Owen shows in Countdown to War (2009) that the decision to go to war in 1939 was made on both sides in a “growing state of irrationality.” Protagonists on either side were dead tired. The decision to go to war came as a relief to them. And you got shot on some hill or lay buried now in some dirt. How does it feel?
Fast forward back to August 9 378, the day of the Barbarians, as it is called. Romans vs Goths in the plains of Central Europe. Any time out of ten Romans should have massacred these ways less organized tribal warriors, but there they were sticking to their winning battle procedures and in the late afternoon, not having eaten and still beating their shields rhythmically in the hot, hot, sun, bang, bang, bang — for hours and hours, dead tired — thinking we go back to camp, no fight today, some horsemen returning turned a play into the real fight. Valens, the Emperor, was never found. The Empire felt the shudder and lost its spine.
Or in a third story to put it simply I quote Maimonides: a soul can be healthy or sick.
The soul of the world is sick.
You feel it too.
Let’s heal it. It is an easy thing to do.
But don’t take my word for it, let me offer you some proof.
It is important to understand that the Internet and the Internet of Things combined change the very nature of ‘power’.
Psychologists specialized in the behavior of larger groups of people explain the relative ease with which one is able to exert influence over masses by assuming “a causal force which bears on every member of an aggregate, and also for each individual there is a large number of idiosyncratic causes:
“Now let us suppose that the idiosyncratic forces that we do not understand are four times as large as the systematic forces that we do understand…As the size of the population increases from 1 to 100, the influence of the unknown individual idiosyncratic behavior decreases from four times as large as the known part to four tenths as large as the known part. As we go to an aggregate of a million, even if we understand only the systematic one-fifth individual behavior as assumed in the table, the part we do not understand of the aggregate behavior decreases to less than 1 per cent (0.004).” (Stinchcombe, 1968).
This shows how top-down power works and why scaling itself has become such an important indicator in such a system of ‘success’. Imagine you want to start a project or ‘do something’ with your friends or neighbors, say, 5 people. This means that you have to take into account before you do anything — state a goal, negotiate deliverables, or even a first date on which to meet for a kick-off — that all five people relate to huge idiosyncrasies and generic forces that have to be aligned or overcome before you can even say ‘Hello’.
This shows how difficult it is to ‘start something’. It also explains why you are always urged to get ‘bigger’ and why you need to ‘grow’. It is only then and through the process of getting bigger themselves that the management tools can operate, lying in waiting for you to ‘discover them’. To be decisive, make a difference, to set about a course for change is in no need of ‘growth’. Understanding the nature of these social relations in the above terms shows how difficult it is to script moments of fundamental change, as hierarchical systems by the very fact that they are top-down can concentrate on managing systematic forces relatively effortlessly.
With the Internet and the Internet of Things, however, these idiosyncrasies have been able to organize and raise their weight in the ratio, and the Internet of things will allow these even further, bringing the sensor network data sets individuals can handle to them on their devices. This acceleration of weak signals into clusters, organized networks, and flukes cannot be managed anymore by formats that are informed by and that inform systematic forces as the nature of these forces has changed.
It is difficult for policy to deal with systemic change. It is natural for it to see the above operation as an attack on its system and not as a new iteration it has caused itself by the hegemonic forces it has allowed to operate; education, freedom of speech, consumerism, and the Internet. In nearly all instances we see revolutions and break down in such constellations. It is also understandable that as a major threat to the system as a whole (democratic capitalism) identified by state and intelligence actors are super-empowered individuals and their new crypto tools. In the light of the above this is however not a threat, but an opportunity.
What will you see if you turn on the television, say, CNN, now? You will see protests ongoing in nearly any country, from the US to Hongkong, from Moscow to Myanmar, from Paris (Gillet Jaunes) to Eindhoven (lockdown measures)…What is the common denominator?
Police dressed up as military hitting citizens.
This shows that Stinchcombe’s law is still working (barely) but will not hold for much longer.
Mayhem, breakdown of resources, and civil wars are the result if policymakers across the globe fail to embrace the Self Sovereign Framework that renegotiates the power divisions between public institutions paid for by taxes, corporate actors paid for services, and citizens without whom both actors would not have a factual base for existence. Public institutions can and will move as much value over to more decentralized structures in Verifiable Credentials in which the legacy of administration and good governance lives on. Corporate actors will get much more granular insight into my behavior if I also get the analysis and feedback from their organizational capabilities to enrich the raw data. I will have much more personal relationships with providers if I can decide what attributes of my existence is most relevant to share. I may end up being convinced that if I share more, I may also get better insights. I may outsource these decisions to a service provider. I could do that as part of a group, a local community, a family, a street.
Self-Sovereign Identity is a win-win-win for all actors. It creates a small time out in which we can renegotiate our rights and our duties as responsible individuals in the different contexts of our everyday lives, taking care of our streets, neighborhoods, regions, and the planet. We need the knowledge and praxis of the administrators, engineers, and domain knowledge experts. There is no need to go through another cycle of breaking down resources, smashing up shops, pinning civil groups against a professional group (the police) who are also fathers, sons, friends, family, colleagues, football fans, skaters. It is a positive story understood fully by crypto literate Generation Z and growing up.
I believe that the day is not far off when all people will have some tool, call it a wallet, a router, a phone, a crypto mining device (maybe all of that) that runs all computation locally on that device and gives out only contextual, time-limited and scope-based information; a companion to assist you in educating yourself and others in living together on a small planet that is tumbling about in vast space. In fact, the 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, describes this tool in her ‘utopia’ of a society combining local bio food and resilient communities running on high tech renewables and distributed ledgers provisioning services. Maybe it was not a utopia but just a vision? She calls the device a kenner.
But again, don’t take my word for it. It is plain good business too.