A Passport to Greater Opportunity
Verifiable digital credentials are a critical component of addressing global workforce challenges related to education and mobility — all while following the principles of Good ID.
One of the earliest challenges of statecraft was developing a legible view of its populations. Translating local complexities into simple and summary descriptions was necessary to enable traditional state functions like taxation and planning. This need to describe impelled various standardization efforts, including permanent last names, land registries, and population surveys, which gave society a visible shape that could be centrally recorded and used within legal frameworks to wield state power.
Migration has historically challenged these standardization efforts and contributed to the reasons governments sought to limit movement. However, as today’s nation-states transition from local industrial economies to a global digital economy, priorities are changing. Building a modern workforce that is competitive and attractive requires a citizenry empowered with digital tools, continuous skills development, opportunity-driven mobility, and the flexibility to compete on a global scale.
The pull of this economy is already evident within the field of education. Today, nearly 5 million students travel outside their countries of origin to be educated, a number which is expected to grow to 7 million by 2030. HolonIQ’s visualization of UNESCO data below illustrates the complexity of this student flow between nations. What tools can help sustain this trend? At Learning Machine, we believe verifiable digital credentials offer a critical solution.
Blockchains and Digital Identity
Official credentials represent an important part of who we are and how we interact with the world. Specific domains like education and employment, as well as digital identity more broadly, are the realms in which people must build a record about themselves in order to access opportunities. However, today over a billion people globally still have no way to prove their identities. This is particularly daunting considering that every type of service in the 21st century–including access to government services–will have to be accessed digitally.
The challenge ahead is to develop the wisdom and will to create new identity systems that are transformationally inclusive without being radically invasive. Historically, greater state control has often directly diminished citizens’ rights, a trade-off considered to a certain point necessary to achieve administrative aims. Yet, recent massive breaches of personal data and trust have ignited a public demand for options that better protect personal privacy.
The urgency to implement better identity systems has given rise to movements like Good ID and Self-Sovereign Identity. These initiatives advocate for approaches that enable individuals to reliably assert personal claims via a digital medium, without violating their own privacy, security, or ownership of data.
The rise of public blockchains is notable because the technology breaks the old pattern of sacrificing rights for protection. Decentralized blockchains simultaneously increase public security and individual privacy by assuring the authenticity of digital assets. Operating as a global notary, blockchains offer instant mathematical verification of digital asset ownership and integrity, like money or credentials. This results in a reduction of fraud while increasing efficiency, conserving time and money at a massive scale.
Strong cryptography combined with public blockchains has created the technical infrastructure to make personal achievement legible and trustworthy, which is essential for training, recruiting and retaining a competitive workforce. By replacing paper records with blockchain-secured digital credentials (Blockcerts), society gains a faster, simpler, and more secure way to validate official records about our identity.
Benefits Beyond Traditional Systems
Some governments already have robust systems in place that make earnest attempts to respect personal data and provide robust verification, which is to be commended. Where Blockcerts adds additional value is in the following areas:
- Decentralized Verification of Credentials. Rather than querying a vendor or government database, which could be hacked or taken down, Blockcerts queries a global blockchain directly to determine whether a credential is valid. This provides lifelong vendor-independent verification with the highest level of confidence.
- Highest Available Digital Document Security. Blockcerts verification registers four things: 1) Whether a certificate has been tampered with in any way; 2) Whether it was actually issued by the authority it claims; 3) Whether it has been revoked by that authority and why; and 4) Whether a certificate has expired.
- Simplified Verification. Rather than replying upon a bureaucratic process, Blockcerts allows relying parties to embed the open-source verification into their digital systems, or simply check the Blockcert using the Universal Verifier. Blockcerts can also be verified by scanning a QR code displayed on the credential for in-person interactions, like at a job site, interview, or inspection.
- International Portability and Verifiability. Blockcerts can be shared anywhere in the world for free and instant verification. The high level of security and standardized digital format (JSON) makes each Blockcert a “passport” to opportunity by creating trust between people who live and work in different institutions and geographies.
All of these attributes work together to help prevent fraud, enhance operational efficiency, and empower participants to be owners of their official records for a lifetime.
We have now more tools than ever before to overcome global social challenges. Many of these tools derive from the power of the centralized state to manage and effect change. Other tools, such as decentralized blockchains, offer instant and cross-border verification of important records. It is the strategic blending of these tools that enables real progress.
Historically, many state-initiated attempts at social engineering have failed, at times catastrophically. John C. Scott argues in Seeing Like A State that the worst disasters occur at the confluence of four factors: strong state power, rigid idealism, authoritarian regimes, and a passive society. His warning implies that well-intended initiatives should build in protections by activating society with tools for personal power, growth, and engagement.
As we stand at the edge of instrumenting our world with digital tools, we should keep in mind that the instruments we use also shape our view of the world. Verifiable credentials enabled by blockchains are instruments that encourage positive social change by aligning state power with individual success. That is a vision of a world worth pursuing.