Self Sovereign Identity — explained

The digital wallet

Timothy Ruff, co-founder of Evernym and the Sovrin Foundation, offers an explanation. For him SSI can be explained very well in only 60 seconds:

Self-Managed Digital Identities (also called Self-Sovereign Digital Identities) can be thought of as a digital wallet. The wallet contains credible digital proof of your digital identity, which you receive from government agencies and trusted institutions. Among other things, they are digital versions of the evidence you have in your physical wallet.

Unlike proprietary digital wallets that you receive from Apple, Google, and others, no one can view, modify, or remove your wallet without your permission; the wallet and the evidence stored in it are yours alone.

On the one hand, the comparison with a wallet allows the reader to visualize the concept, which makes the — admittedly very abstract subject matter — more tangible. On the other hand, this short explanation contains many more subliminal statements: The characteristics you imagine a wallet to have fit perfectly with the principles of DID. The wallet analogy thus clears up common myths about DID and forms a common knowledge base for further discussions.

Let's reinforce the wallet analogy:

  • Many documents and proofs in my wallet are issued by third parties (authorities), but I freely use the documents.
  • I alone decide with whom I share which document.
  • I do not produce the wallet myself, but receive it. This is also true of the documents it contains.
  • Once I have a wallet, no one can take it away from me without my consent.
  • I have to be careful with my wallet and keep it safe.
  • I can take my wallet anywhere and use it wherever I go.
  • My documents are not tied to a single wallet. I can transfer the documents to a new wallet without altering their value or trustworthiness.

Advantages of a digital wallet

Like the digital version of a book-shelf, the digital wallet can hold many more documents in a much smaller footprint. It is easy to copy for safekeeping and obfuscating portions of the documents before presenting them is possible.

A few examples

  • When you present your ID to the club bouncer they don’t need to know your birth date or name, just that you’re over 21.
  • You need to send a utility bill as proof of residence. They don’t need to know the amount on the invoice.
  • When you apply for a new job your new employer wants to check your diplomas, this should not require a phone call. Nor should it disclose your age and gender.
  • For all the US citizens: get rid of the need to disclose your SSN to everyone and fear for your identity.

It would be great indeed if digital interactions became even more trustworthy without the need to present our data on a silver platter to large Internet corporations

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