Future tech

Blockchain-powered system to help 1.1 billion people establish their legal identity

Accenture joins forces with Microsoft to create a prototype identity system to aid the vast number of the world’s undocumented population

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 10:46am

Blockchain, the digital ledger technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin, may hold the key to solving the thorny challenge of establishing the identities of more than 1.1 billion people around the world, according to experts.

Global management consulting group Accenture, in partnership with software giant Microsoft and professional services company Avanade, said it has developed an identity prototype based on blockchain technology, in response to a call to action at the United Nations-backed ID2020 Summit held in New York on Monday.

“Government and business leaders often talk about how technology can help us solve social problems – this is a concrete example,” Gianfranco Casati, the group chief executive for growth markets at Accenture, told the South China Morning Post.

“Approximately one-sixth of the world’s population cannot participate in cultural, political, economic and social life because they lack the most basic information: documented proof of their existence.”

Accenture and Microsoft are both founding alliance partners of ID2020, a global public-private partnership that was formed last year to help provide digital identity to everyone on the planet.

“By establishing identity, we can help more people gain access to education, health care, voting, banking, mobile communications, housing, and family and childcare benefits,” Casati said.

Approximately one-sixth of the world’s population cannot participate in cultural, political, economic and social life because they lack the most basic information: documented proof of their existence
Gianfranco Casati, group chief executive for growth markets, Accenture

He said Accenture’s unique identity service prototype, which runs on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, is built on the firm’s capabilities in blockchain technology.

Blockchain represents a secure transaction ledger database that is shared by all parties participating in an established, distributed network of computers.

It records and stores every transaction or exchange of data that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for a central authority and providing greater transparency for regulatory reporting.

“Our prototype is personal, private and portable, empowering individuals to access and share appropriate information when convenient and without the worry of using or losing paper documentation,” said David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s global blockchain business.

To solve problems faced by people who lack official identities, the Accenture prototype can be deployed with a biometrics system that can manage fingerprints, iris scans and other data.

It is currently at the heart of the Biometric Identity Management System used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has enrolled more than 1.3 million refugees in 29 countries. This system is expected to support more than 7 million refugees from 75 countries by 2020.

“We believe that identity is one of the most important needs in international development, and an area where Microsoft and the private sector are uniquely positioned to contribute,” said Yorke Rhodes, a global business strategist at Microsoft.

White initial interest in Blockchain has largely been in financial services, especially in digital currency and payment processing, the technology has been increasingly adopted for more social purposes.

Ant Financial Services Group, the operator of online payments platform Alipay, opened up its blockchain-powered charity platform, called “Ant Love”, to more organisations in April, allowing charity outfits, auditors, donors, media and other relevant parties to better track information on donation history, project disclosures and governance rules.

Established last year, Ant Love records the donations made by about 450 million Alipay users and connects them to various charitable groups and non-governmental organisations.

Ant Financial is an affiliate of e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the Post.