NOV 30, 2017 7:32 AM PST

Zug, Switzerland Offers First Digital IDs on Blockchain

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

With so much of our lives running on digital industries and transactions, it’s no surprise that digital ID initiatives are on the rise. In Nov. 2017, digital identity platform uPort is teaming up with Zug, Switzerland to make it the first city in the world to offer digital identities. These IDs allow citizens to "seamlessly interact with the digital services of the City of Zug." Early uses of the digital identities will include e-signatures and online parking fee payments and the city plans to pioneer e-voting in the spring of 2018. The identities will be created and stored on the Ethereum blockchain.

 

uPort Zug ID screenshot, credit: uPort

“We want a single electronic identity – a kind of digital passport – for all possible applications. And we do not want this digital ID to be centralized, but on the blockchain. Our role is not to store personal information, we only examine the identity of a person,” Mayor of Zug, Dolfi Müller, told Ethnews.

Blockchain is essentially a spread-out database; it stores information on multiple computers rather than in a central space and encrypts its data (secures it through cryptography). Bitcoin, famous for being the first widely-used cryptocurrency, relies on blockchain technology for financial transactions. Ether is another popular cryptocurrency and it is used on the Ethereum blockchain. Some blockchain platforms like Ethereum are used for more than just financial purposes – the Ethereum blockchain was designe to be programmed to carry out a variety of transactions. In the case of Zug and uPort’s collaboration, the blockchain transactions will build and store secure, distributed online identities and enable digital citizenship activities for users.

A uPort post on the new Zug identity program states it will both build trust between the citizens and government and “open up new and significant opportunities for improved digital interactions between [them].” Here’s an overview of how it will work:

A citizen downloads the uPort app and registers, establishing a uPort ID as a global unique identifier stored on the Ethereum blockchain. They then sign into the Zug ID portal with a QR code scan. The citizen enters their personal information, which must be verified in person by a city administrator within two weeks. If the citizen’s information is verified, a digital citizenship credential is added to the uPort ID.

The encrypted identities will be spread out on the decentralized Ethereum blockchain and uPort describes them as “self-sovereign.” Rouven Heck, product lead digital identity of ConsenSys, the studio that built uPort, says “the private data will be completely under control of the individual, while at the same time it enables a frictionless use of digital services,” according to BTCManager.com.

Zug has less than 30,000 citizens but is gaining fame as the hub of the Swiss “CryptoValley,” which many blockchain startups call home, including the Bitcoin wallet service Xapo and Ethereum Foundation. Zug has already embraced cryptocurrencies in the past by accepting Bitcoin payments for city services and setting up a Bitcoin ATM. This makes it an ideal location for the pilot of a blockchain-based e-identity initiative.

Many countries including Australia, Estonia, Algeria and Italy are now using or exploring some form of digital identity. The United Nations (U.N.) announced a goal of providing everyone on the planet with a legal ID by 2030, and may rely on digital IDs to fulfill this goal. In the summer of 2017, the U.N. teamed up with Microsoft, Accenture and Avanade in an effort to create digital IDs for the more than 1 billion undocumented people in the world.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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