backed by a digital identity number stored on a blockchain.
Even without the passport necessary to open a Finnish bank
account, a MONI account lets refugees receive benefits directly
from the government. The system also allows refugees to get
loans from people who know and trust them, helping them
build rudimentary credit histories that could make it possible
to get institutional loans down the road.
Meanwhile, companies like Accenture and Microsoft are
joining nonprofit organizations in a public-private alliance
called ID2020. The mission is to help achieve the UN goal of
providing a legal identity to everyone, starting with the 1. 1 billion
people who lack any officially recognized proof of their existence.
At the heart of such systems is a concept known as “
self-sovereign identity.” It was popularized in 2016 by Christopher
Allen, an American technologist, who outlined principles for
a digital proof of existence owned by the individual. In such a
scheme, identity would be portable and not dependent on any
state or central authority. And the consensus is growing that a
blockchain should be at its center.
Blockchains, Allen told me, are critical to such identity systems because they solve previously “unsolvable” problems. By storing an encrypted identifier in a blockchain, one can separate the
authentication system from one’s data, helping to protect privacy.
Blockchain systems are also more secure than conventional identity records because they cut out third-party intermediaries. They
can be easier to use, and they can survive disasters that might wipe
out more centralized record-keeping systems.
The ultimate goal is a system in which a user owns and
totally controls some kind of digital wallet—much like the
physical one we carry today for our paper documents. The wallet stores claims made by the user (like name and date of birth),
evidence for those claims (like copies of birth certificates or
utility bills), and third-party validations, known as attestations,
that further support an individual’s claims (like a government
confirmation of the details on a birth certificate). Such a wallet
could reside in a smart chip on a key fob or something resembling a credit card, or it could be a secure enclave within one’s
phone, like those already provided by some manufacturers.
With the right technology, say Haddad and others, a blockchain ID system could cover many more claims than the kind
found on licenses or passports—claims like “over 21” or “US
A mural at the Zaatari camp (center);
Bassam gets his eye scanned to pay at the
Houman Haddad is the UN executive
behind Building Blocks and its use at
the Jordanian camp.