Innovation

Why blockchain could be your next form of ID as a world citizen

Microsoft and Accenture have partnered to create a blockchain solution that acts as digital identification for refugees. Here's how it works.

Blockchain is moving from banking to the refugee crisis, as Microsoft and Accenture on Monday announced a partnership to use the technology to provide a legal form of identification for 1.1 billion people worldwide as part of the global public-private partnership ID2020.

The two tech giants developed a prototype that taps Accenture's blockchain capabilities and runs on Microsoft Azure. The tech tool uses a person's biometric data, such as a fingerprint or iris scan, to unlock the record-keeping blockchain technology and create a legal ID. This will allow refugees to have a personal identity record they can access from an app on a smartphone to receive assistance at border crossings, or to access basic services such as healthcare, according to a press release.

The prototype is designed so that personally identifiable information (PII) always exists "off chain," and is not stored in a centralized system. Citizens use their biometric data to access their information, and chose when to share it—preventing the system from being accessed by tyrannical governments that refugees are fleeing from, as ZDNet noted.

SEE: Blockchain: The smart person's guide

Accenture's platform is currently used in the Biometric Identity Management System operated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has enrolled more than 1.3 million refugees in 29 nations across Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The system is predicted to support more than 7 million refugees from 75 countries by 2020, the press release noted.

"People without a documented identity suffer by being excluded from modern society," said David Treat, a managing director in Accenture's global blockchain business, in the press release. "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."

ID is key for accessing education, healthcare, voting, banking, housing, and other family benefits, the press release noted. ID2020's goal is to create a secure, established digital ID system for all citizens worldwide.

"This is a great example of design and technology coming together to address the challenges facing so many vulnerable individuals in our society today," said Lorna Ross, group director, Accenture's Fjord Design Studio at The Dock, in the press release. "We hope that this work will galvanize efforts globally towards a solution that guarantees the right to an identity for the invisible everywhere."

This is not Microsoft's first foray into blockchain: In April 2016, it announced a partnership with R3 banking consortium to enhance its Blockchain as a Service offerings, announced the year before. And in May 2016, the company partnered with ConsenSys and Blockstack Labs to create an open source, blockchain-based identity system to provide legal identification for people around the world in efforts to combat human trafficking and child abuse.

Blockchain will likely play an increasing role in both identification and security moving forward, especially as it relates to the Internet of Things (IoT). For example, Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company, is currently experimenting with a combination of blockchain and biometric security for its smart home products, ZDNet reported.

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Image: iStockphoto/csakisti

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Monday, Microsoft and Accenture announced a partnership to use blockchain technology to provide legal identification for 1.1 billion people worldwide, as part of the global public-private partnership ID2020.

2. An individual's personally identifiable information exists "off chain," and only they can access it using a fingerprint or retina scan.

3. The prototype is another step forward for blockchain, which will likely increasingly be used for identification and security.

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About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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