Why Self-Sovereign Identity is a Game Changer for Government-Resident Interactions

Why Self-Sovereign Identity is a Game Changer for Government-Resident Interactions

What is Self-Sovereign Identity?

Over the past decade, government agencies have exponentially accelerated their investments in digital government. More and more agencies offer residents and business owners the option to access and apply for services online. To offer these digital portals, though, agencies must verify users’ identities, and that has meant collecting, validating, and storing massive amounts of residents’ personal information.

These large caches of personal information are prime targets for ransomware and cyberattacks. In 2021 alone, more than 2300 state and local government agencies were targets of such attacks. As a result, public trust in government remains low, which stunts the potential of governments’ digital investments.

These factors explain why governments are increasingly pursuing Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) solutions. SSI solutions put the resident in control of their own data and makes identifying information independently verifiable – eliminating the need for a government agency to house any sensitive data.  With SSI, the individual decides how much information they share and with whom they share it, just as they do with their physical wallet and credentials. Organizations that request identification do not retain any personal information, and the user has complete control over everything.

For these reasons, several state agencies are looking to SSI to efficiently and securely verify the credentials of residents while conducting transactions online, such as renewing driver’s licenses, registering vehicles, and obtaining business licenses.

Yet, despite the benefits of SSI for resident-government transactions, concerns around data privacy, data protection, and data control remain.

Let’s look at how four guiding principles of SSI – control, portability, interoperability, and security – work together to alleviate these concerns while helping agencies achieve efficiencies, security, and deliver better service.

Control over personal information

Residents interact with local government agencies several times a year. And the process is cumbersome. From paying taxes to renewing a vehicle license, each interaction requires logging into different portals with different credentials and filling out the same personal information (most of which is irrelevant to the transaction).

With SSI, an individual can selectively share their credentials based on what is required for that transaction. They can also dictate how that data is used and revoke data sharing permission at any time. The government only gets the information it needs when it needs it. While the resident maintains control over their personally identifiable information (PII).

For example, many states now allow residents to create and access a digital record of their vaccination status by matching their email or phone number on file to state vaccination records – no other information, such as Social Security number, is needed to verify their identity.

Convenience and portability

People are increasingly turning to the convenience and security of mobile apps and digital wallets to store forms of payment and proof of identity. SSI offers an enhanced level of convenience and portability.

Using SSI, residents can store information in apps and quickly access and share that information for easy verification. For instance, a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles could issue digital licenses that are stored on a user’s phone. Instead of a resident scrambling for a physical document or another authenticator to prove their identity, the information on their digital license is tied to a blockchain with verification components. In this way, any agency that interacts with that user can quickly and securely verify their license data.

Interoperability for better efficiency

For state and local agencies, validating the information of their users has always been a challenge. Because every application must be examined and approved individually, even a simple, single request like an unemployment benefit application or business license renewal, can take weeks to process. In addition, because the information is stored in different databases, it is challenging to cross-reference even when applications come from the same person. Therefore, each application must be treated separately.

But with SSI – which are built on distributed ledger technology for speed and security – agencies can validate requests like these more quickly. Processing time is substantially reduced, and agencies can quickly work through requests. Moreover, residents benefit from the convenience and service they’ve come to expect in their digital lives.

Enhanced security and increased trust

In the past, the government and residents have been reluctant to move towards SSI solutions. Residents don’t want the government to control their data, while agencies do not wish to be stewards of sensitive resident data or raise suspicions that the data may be used for unauthorized purposes. Another concern is cybersecurity. State and local agencies are lucrative targets for hackers and can’t risk being responsible for securing huge amounts of personal data.

SSI technology alleviates these concerns because it’s secure and decentralized. Each user’s personal data is stored in a wallet in the form of digital credentials – not in a government or cloud database. Residents own their data and have complete control and consent to what’s shared and with whom. Furthermore, that data is a less attractive target for cybercriminals. A hacker would have to find a way to hack the individual wallets of hundreds of thousands of residents to make any gains.

Could SSI be the future of connected and trusted government services?

As government organizations look to build and maintain trusted relationships with residents, agencies would do well to explore SSI as an option. With SSI, they can provide residents with secure, fast, and friction-free access to an array of government services while allowing them to maintain full control of their data and privacy. It’s not about trusting the government with their data; it’s about trusting the technology.