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    ConsenSys Blockchain for Social Impact

    by Robert Greenfield 01/10/2018 07:59 AM GMT

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          Blockchain Identity for Developing Countries

          Self-sovereign identity is a scarcely developed resource, accessible only by a tech-savvy few in mostly developed countries. With the advent of blockchain technology and its application to identity management through projects like Civic and uPort, the layman’s ability to exclusively maintain her own data is gradually becoming a reality.

          But, in developing countries, a whole host of infrastructural and geo-political problems prevent a massive market of ‘identity-non-consumers” from freely transacting and exchanging their identity and associated attributes in any context they see fit.

          We see this most often within refugee communities, where typical users don’t have access to smartphones (or if they do, it is for a very temporary period of time). The lack of a smartphone in today’s self-sovereign blockchain market makes it very difficult to even develop an immutable identity, let alone associate it with off-chain attributes over time.

          In fact, most developing nations within Africa and the Middle East have very low smartphone consumer penetration, in tangent with sometimes unstable governance that makes establishing a technology-centric economy especially difficult. The flip-phone economy supports millions of citizens across these regions and effectively prevents entire communities from participating in the revived self-sovereign identity revolution.

          For those developing markets maturing as consumers begin to adopt smartphones, these communities are relying more heavily on Android operating systems than anything else, so iOS-only/iOS-first blockchain identity solutions do nothing to aid potential users for which a self-sovereign identity is most helpful.

          Authoritarian Control over Identity

          Citizenry is fundamentally defined differently in authoritarian countries. From birth certificates to migration control, official documents are a tool of control. In many cases, citizen assets are monitored and controlled, making even remittances an easily forfeitable ‘luxury.’ One of the most powerful features of a self-sovereign identity is the ability to privately transact resources without the fear of a break in confidentiality. In nation-states that are geo-politically aligned against external aid to their respective citizenries, charitable transactions like wire-transfers and shipments can easily be either blocked, held, or altogether confiscated, never achieving their intended purpose of relieving the recipient.

          The very existence of Authoritarian states in the modern age demonstrates that technology can just as easily be leveraged as a tool of absolute control as it can unlock unfettered freedom. Self-sovereign identity isn’t a silver bullet, and if we don’t think about it/build it carefully, malicious actors could still capitalize on it as an element of control. Blockchain identities have, for the most part, remained pseudo-anonymous, from which real-life identities could be extracted given the transactional behavior of the agent under investigation. Governments could easily use state-sponsored machine learning algorithms to monitor public blockchain activity to gain insight on the lower level activity of their citizens if blockchain architects aren’t careful in the way they align transaction permissions and public/private state variables.

          Document-less Citizens

          In cases of Child Trafficking, some citizens in developing nations have no identification whatsoever, making it impossible for undocumented individuals to transact altogether, let alone take refuge in another state. Lack of documentation makes these ‘lost citizens’ easier to commodify within the human trafficking market, helping the global supply chain of sex trafficking and slavery continue to exist with minimal border checkpoint obstacles.

          For example, (according to a Reuters report) many children born in Moldova do not have official identity documents, making them attractive for sex trafficking because they’re outside the normal system where governments track the existence of its citizens.

          In circumstances like these, an immutable identity is a necessity, rather than a trendy feature of having an iPhone. It seems that a Blockchain-based, self-sovereign identity has far more utility in the social impact space than it does in developed nations, as the majority of the citizenry of the latter fiendishly rely upon centralized data repositories to project “who they are” online, making the use of a uPort or Civic a parallel commodity rather than a behavioral change in identity management.

          To the point. Trafficking in Moldova

          Trafficking is a multifaceted issue requiring a multifaceted approach. Digital identity alone will not fix the broken system. Thus, we propose a niche problem approach -- where we seek to address three specific problems related to the broader issue:

          • Development of immutable identities for at-risk youth and human trafficking survivors  
          • Development of permissioned transactions so that the guardians of these stakeholders are notified  
          • Tracking law enforcement agent/shelter staff actions at border checkpoints and shelters respectively (potential points of entry/intimidation of the sex trafficking market)
          • Safely verifying the job market to avoid false postings
          • Automating the process of hotline support for survivors in need and/or people searching for missing persons

          Identity for Minors/Survivors

          We've developed a two-pronged approach that leverages the existence of immutable, digital identities for minors (typically citizens under the age of 18 years old) and survivors (those who have escaped the human trafficking market). The goal is to leverage a unique, pseudo-anonymous, digital identity to support the following processes:

          1. Protect survivors from being re-trafficked
          2. Protect minors from being introduced to the trafficking market


          Using Citizen Biomarkers

          In order for identity authentication to be scalable across vulnerable populations without the need of a device, the use of user biomarkers will be required. An agent’s biomarker is the only unique characteristic that can be used for authentication without the need of a device (i.e. SMS or authentication via smartphone).

          There are ethical considerations when immutably logging citizen biomarkers, primarily the malicious usage of this data for increased control over user agents. In order to evade potentially harmful use cases of biomarker data, authentication hashes will be absconded from any participating central authority within the blockchain’s system (law enforcement, shelter organizations, etc.).

          Utilizing an agent’s iris scan is most likely going to be the most efficient and secure method across high level factors like the following:

          • How simple it is to fake the biomarker
          • Time is takes a match to process
          • Level of risk of a data leak occurring in a centralized database
          • Level of tech support required to maintain the overall tech stack

          Of course, leveraging fingerprint scan technology is also an excellent starting point for biomarker usage, particularly given that is the only other available option that does not visually expose “who” the agent is (primarily, what they look like), which, if exposed in a data leak, could lead to the most harmful repercussions to the agents whose identities were exposed. In addition, false matches are less probable with fingerprint scans than in facial recognition, and the user experience is the most rapid (highest ease of use).

          We recommend to use fingerprint scans as a secondary authentication method (backup) in case the agent’s iris scan is no longer available.  

          Identity Authentication and Registration

          No biometric data will be stored un-hashed anywhere within the system. Instead, all users will abide by the following registration process:

          1. Register their identity via iris scan
          2. The biomarker data is immediately hashed before being stored on or off-chain
          3. Upon an authentication request, the user’s identity is compared to the on-chain state’s list of registered identities

          In order to make the identity solution most effective as a preventative method, the following should take place to support at-risk youth:

          1. At-risk audience of minors should be identified - those who have not been trafficked
          2. These minors, along with their identified guardians, should register their identities on the blockchain at the nearest partnered shelter with the Moldova’s Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP)
          3. The permissioned nature of the blockchain will only allow minors to authorize transactions, like leaving the country, with the consented approval of their respective guardians (at least two-thirds of authenticated guardians)

          This effectively uses digital identity as a preventative method by leveraging a permissioned transaction system within several niche contexts seen to be ‘at-risk’ decisions, like crossing the border, using certain shelter services, or instantiating an investigation.   

          Extendable Identity’s & Use of Smartphones

          If registered users have consistent access to a mobile phone, it may be useful to ‘extend’ the usage of their digital identity from being a passive authentication method to using it as an active agent within an anti-sex trafficking network. User's with consistent access to a smartphone can leverage the use of uPort to pair with their existing biomarker-backed digital identity - or simply use uPort alone. We hope to make the pairing process as simple as possible, via which the user’s mobile uPort identity is associated with their digital identity and users can take advantage of better secondary features like updating their background information on-chain and receiving alerts. Our proposal deck digs deeper into this process.  

          Automated Communication

          One of our team’s proposed solutions leverages the identity management system’s network of registered users as a method of better communicating information on missing persons in response to hotline inquiries searching for loved ones. The proposed solution also leverages the network (via incentives) to respond to hotline inquiries by new survivors requesting aid.

          By immutably saving a reference to hotline requests for support, information on such inquiries can be referenced far into the future to aid investigations and support anti-trafficking studies.  

          Affecting Maximal Change  

          In the conclusion of our proposal, our team makes a final recommendation to pursue only one of the niche solutions. It our hope to provide simple yet effective, blockchain appropriate solutions and be realistic about their implementation and helpfulness. Although the sole use of blockchain and a sovereign identity system will certainly not result in the end of sex trafficking in the region, developing solutions around the broader issue of human trafficking will enable stakeholders to affect the maximum amount of change possible.    

          Co-authors to your solution

          Robert Greenfield, Ben Siegel, Vanessa Grellet, Ariana Fowler

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