Consensus is a hard process because you never know who you can trust. In my recent articles I have been discussing the concept of basic income. One of the most basic requirements for any basic income system is reaching consensus on who is an unique individual. Identity theft would steal the birthright of some individuals while counterfeit identities (sybil attacks) would defraud the entire platform.
Solving the identity problem in a robust and decentralized way is the key to solving far more than basic income. It is the very foundation of reputation, account recovery, lost password recovery, and even democratic polling. This problem, properly solved, would enable a massive amount of innovation and economic development.
The most basic form of verifying unique individuals is what our governments do today. They collect birth certificates, death certificates, and photo IDs. These documents link every individual into the global family tree in a globally unique way. Some governments go a step further and gather DNA, fingerprint, and other biometric identifiers that help uniquely identify individuals.
This approach works well and is quite effective if you trust the centralized validator. We all know that governments can create any number of fake IDs for their agents. If each fake ID was allocated shares that only real live individuals are entitled then the government can secretly embezzle money from society.
Multi-Party Authoritative Validation
This approach creates multiple independent agencies each of which attempts to maintain a database of unique individuals. Think of this as every country in the world having a unique ID for every person in the world. An individual would be required to get “proof of uniqueness” from multiple countries before the global consensus would trust that an individual is truly unique. This model is far more reliable than the single-party model because it requires two entities to collude to manufacture fake IDs. The more parties that are involved in the validation, the more difficult it becomes to collude and the more challenging it becomes to defraud.
Under this approach the masses trust a handful of trusted parties to validate data. This minimize the cost per-individual of validating uniqueness. With 2 validators, each validator would be required to know the full population. With 3 validators each validator would only need to know 50% of the population (assuming even distribution of validation) and that the global consensus was OK with 2 of 3 approval. With 5 validators each individual would have to get validated 3 times and each validator would have to know 20% of the population on average.
As the number of validators grow the cost for one individual to validate themselves grows, but the less trust needs to be placed in any one validator.
Massively Distributed Validation
Under this model every individual validates the people they actually know in life. Think about your Facebook friends and family. The problem with this scale is that you can no longer trust the validators because there are simply too many of them. Sybil attacks will spawn thousands or millions of fake identities.
There is no problem with having a few trusted entities that can certify data so long as the public is able to corroborate the results and keep the trusted entities in check. If a trusted entity is discovered to be forging identities then they can be removed from their position and the identities can be revoked.
Every user could publish a profile page that includes a photo and solicit endorsements from friends and family and link themselves into the family tree of all humanity. Two or more trusted entities would certify that the person claiming the account matches the photograph and/or other identifying information. This could be implemented with something as simple as netverify and/or competing services.
For just a few dollars per person we could get everyone verified and linked in a public social network of strong identity. A blockchain would take these inputs and use it to reach a consensus about which accounts belong to unique individuals and then use that information for many different applications, including a basic income.
Belonging to such a network would have huge value to service providers. Imagine if Steemit could simply use your validated ID to handle account signups and prevent abuse! This problem is widespread and thousands of internet companies are faced with the challenge of identifying unique people from thousands of fake identities.
Not everyone wants to have their entire life linked through a public profile. It is entirely possible to generate an anonymous set of unique pseudonyms. Systems such as digital e-cash and/or platforms like zcash enable the identity verifiers to issue anonymous tokens to users who validate their identity. These same verifiers can then allow users to redeem their verified identity token for a signature on an anonymous ID. The verifier would be unable to link the token to the real life ID and yet could ensure they never certified more unique IDs than exist. While an individual validator could forge anonymous IDs, it wouldn’t be practical to get multiple validators to forge anonymous IDs.
Currently only governments have access to databases of identity information and through that database they have the power to erase you from the system. It is time we decentralize identity and opt for public databases of basic ID. From this we can implement transparent and fair systems of governance and money.