Making It Real: From Self Sovereign Identity To Decentralized Identity Management. Who Calls The State Of Exception?

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From Self Sovereign Identity To Decentralized Iden
Everything went from bad to worse, money never changed a thing - Bob Dylan, Up to Me.

Confess with us now for a moment to the truth of the transcendental sciences. Suppose that there does actually exists a force which can be mastered and by which the miracles of Nature are made subservient to the will of man. Tell us, in such case, whether the secrets of wealth and the bonds of sympathy can be entrusted to brutal greed; the art of fascination to libertines; the supremacy over other wills to those who cannot attain the governance of their proper selves. The History of Magic, by Eliphas Lévi, 1860: p. 46

A time to reap, a time to sow, a time to rejoice, a time to mourn. It all seems metaphor now. But it did not always was. It just designated that this was a time to reap, to sow...People understood and acted accordingly. There was no need to tell them or script it. The 2020s are a time to change. There is nothing anyone can do to change that.

We have been arguing for about a decade now that current governance structures must transform into semi-organized networks with flat and efficient properties, embrace disruptive technologies by disambiguating the productive functions to slow down, to mediate, to look for balance in long term, mid and short term of bureaucracy and democratic politics from their current actualizations that have become ineffective in a 'real-time' world.

Link: Gluhak, van Kranenburg

New instruments of governance for our societies

Big Tech has argued this too. At a speech to the Pittsburgh Technology Council in 2009, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt focused on the negative effects on innovation and integration of (what he called) institutional fragmentation and wondered if governments - and the very process of policy and policymaking itself - could not benefit from the iterative cycles of measuring success and failure that characterize the engineering and design prototyping cycles. He argued that with this amount of real-time tracking, aggregated data and information - not heuristics, governing itself could benefit. In essence, particular laws can be effective for three months and evaluated, adjusted and on the basis of real data - not estimates, adjusted again. It is this process that can lead to combinatorial innovation and system Innovation.

In Imagine No Possessions, Christina Kiaer investigates the Russian Constructivist conception of objects as being more than commodities. "Our things in our hands must be equals, comrades," wrote Aleksandr Rodchenko in 1925.

When artists, engineers, billionaires, philosophers and platformists agree on a course of action you better pay attention. Something i n e v i t a b l e is about to actualize, as this is its time to change. It is difficult for policy to deal with systemic change. It is natural for regulators to see change as an attack on its established system. Change is not perceived as a new iteration it has caused, nor by hegemonic forces that established administrations have allowed to grow and operate. Digital convergence has brought regulation to bear on education, on freedom of speech, on consumerism, and on the Internet.

All systems build iterations that suit the data information models that build adequate tools for decision making. Lenin quotes Engels:

“The state, therefore, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which managed without it, which managed without it, which had no conception of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity owning to this cleavage. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity but is becoming a positive hindrance to production. They will disappear as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them, the state will inevitably disappear. The society that organizes production anew on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong in the museum of antiquities, side by side with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.” V.I Lenin: State and Revolution, Martino Publishing 2011, Preface to First Edition, 1917, p.15

The German Kreisau Circle has laid some theoretical foundations for the current paradigm of local and peer to peer, as it focused on an extremely decentralized Germany in an equally decentralized but still united Europe, building on a horizontal scaling of local communities that would share infrastructure and resources. This mix of Christian inspired philosophers, Army officers weary with SS brutality (but a large part of them did not condone the Blitzkrieg), and German nobility adhering to a certain style and strong values of service, was not very well organized but was the logical context for the von Stauffenberg attentat and subsequent brilliant conception (but lousy execution) of hiding a revolution within an existing official plan for countering a revolution.

The editors of Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press state that in my contribution I argue that this change in ontological perception requires

…”a change in how one makes decisions about the emerging digital world—moving from “analog” cause and effect to decisions made by negotiating “a network of varied and widely diverging skill sets that allow for conflict inside the network. To do this, he advocates constructing a “new conceptual space” with “new notions of privacy, security, assets, risks, and threats, tailored to a reality of today, not a reality of yesterday or longer.”


Identifying the Real and Absolute Enemy. In Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press

How have historically speaking these new conceptual spaces actualized? Through states of exception, or states of emergency.

Moments like that are rare. Relatively stable assets are breaking up but most importantly it is the indicators of success that seem to change with rapid pace. In our case we see that 'money' is no longer a decisive factor as Generation Z and below needs 'meaning' and purpose more than plain cash.

Roughly speaking there are three main models to frame the state of exception. For Walter Benjamin it was 'revolution', the bitter end of an iteration of power. For Agamben the state of exception is not a special kind of law, "insofar as it is a suspension of the juridicial order itself, it defines law's threshold or limit concept. (Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, 2005, p.4)

The view that makes most sense for us in 2021 is the vision of (the, albeit difficult and tainted thinker) Carl Schmitt who holds that it the agency to install a state of exception is the power of the sovereign state, king, jurisdiction. This means that for Schmitt every actionable government has within itself a dictatorial element to decide when the model itself is threatened. Schmitt uses the notion of the Absolute Enemy, die Eigene Frage als Gestalt to designate this moment and to make it distinct from real (Wirkliche Feind) enemies that can always be confronted within the model itself.

These moments have so far in our history been used by military coups and dictators. One of the most disturbing texts I have ever read and re-read from time to time is from Carl Schmitt, "Der Führer schützt das Recht". He wrote it after the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler and the SS took out the SA and eliminated hundreds of political opponents. According to Schmitt it was the ruler himself who stepped in to protect the inherent legal jurisdiction. After reading that about thirty year ago I was forever not impressed in the presence of models build on legal arguments.

This growing awareness of civil servants all around the world facing this absolute enemy means in 2021 realizing that the final act in privatization of public services, identity management would leave them probably without their jobs and most certainly without their pensions. So far it was other citizens that were disempowered but in realizing this final blow to the model of public agency (the hollowed-out state) will also have no further use for them as it will be sets of companies proposing the new rules for not just doing business but for society as a whole:

“… no matter the form of the organization — government, consortium, association, cooperative — the purpose is the same: define the business, legal, and technical rules by which the members agree to operate in order to achieve trust."


The Trust over IP Stack by Matthew Davie, Dan Gisolfi, Daniel Hardman, John Jordan, Darrell O’Donnell, and Drummond Reed in IEEE Communications Standards Magazine, December 2019

This is the reason why SSI is happening and will be the only viable course of action aligning the interest of citizens with those in regulated institutions and governments who understand what is at stake. Therefor we will see more terms like Decentralized Identity management and less SSI as the current realistic step that we can take - without a revolution as the loss of value in the current integrated and connected world will be too great to recover from - entails that governance components will be moved into the new value layer as Verifiable Credentials. For citizens, the trade-off is that breakdown (the revolution we do not want) is stalled and/or preferably averted, and that the process of governance itself opens up maybe just a little bit in some places, a little bit or a lot more in others to more transparency, more accountability and more participation of citizens.

SSI was never really about anonymity from the evil gaze of power, or just for geeks or libertarians who want to remain islands. It was always about accountability of free individuals agreeing to community as and in a light form of organization tuned to the generic infrastructures that humans need in order to live and survive, food, energy, housing, education, care and security. Without this light form of organization, we cannot build the custodian frameworks that we need if we really want all people to handle their own private keys. This is not an impossibility given the immense rise of the digital and smartphones but with “bitcoin users have misplaced about 20% of all existing tokens” it is clear that this is what we need to work most on if we want this New Democratic Deal to be inclusive and truly social.

A very interesting and very recent new term is explained in the text Decentralized SSI Governance, the missing link in automating business decisions, by Rieks Joosten, Sterre den Breeijen, and Drummond Reed.


Decentralized SSI Governance, the missing link in automating business decisions

Their paper introduces SSI Assurance Communities (SSI-ACs) that aim to “leverage the present trust communities and corresponding mechanisms, while at the same time automating the business decisions that are experienced as cumbersome. Different credential types, accreditation, machine readable policies and decision tree support are an essential part in decentralized governance.”

This idea, to focus on already existing ecosystems and equip them with SSI capabilities takes care of an important aspect of data quality and they can also take on the role of custodians for end-users (for when people lose their private keys).

As “a SSI-AC is constructed and maintained by (representatives of) organizations - which we will call its ‘constituents’ - which perform the governance, they specify its scope (what (not) to consider), the products and services that the SSI-AC will govern (and perhaps also realize) for the purpose of facilitating organizations to obtain assurances and build or maintain trust.”

It will be interesting to see if and how these Assurance Communities can be made interoperable and function in for example Amsterdam and Singapore. Imagine for example such an AC on mobility. The Dutch ANWB has about 4.561.335 (2018) members, that is about one third of all Dutch citizens. Could it synch with AA Singapore (83,000)?

Building the governance for these AC’s that will define the business, legal, and technical rules by which the members agree to operate in order to achieve trust, will require intensive ecosystem assemblage aligning the domain requirements with the three actors: components of generic infrastructure and legacy provisioning (.gov), big tech organized in TOIP and loosely organized citizen initiatives that have the general interest at heart.

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 third article in this series is with a special arrangement with the author for exclusively:

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