In the future biometrics will be used extensively for identity management. Biometric authentication is already closely tied to the concept of identity since some biometrics can uniquely identify you within a given set of users (e.g., employees or citizens). In this context, identity is the means by which you make “claims” to rights, membership, and ownership of property or data.
Consider losing your driver’s license. You need another form of identification, like your birth certificate, to obtain a replacement. The DMV requires you appear in person with the birth certificate to verify its authenticity and match your face to the picture in their database. This is a long and arduous process. In the future, imagine a virtual driver’s license that you can’t lose. Your face and fingerprints are enough proof of the claim that you’re you.
Securing the Identity Claim
But where will the identity claim reside? Today, the government issues identity claims in the form of documents that are difficult to counterfeit – birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports. There are about a dozen companies actively working on identity solutions, independent of any central authority, such as a government body or enterprise, or physical representation. All of these solutions involve identity claims residing on a blockchain to achieve decentralization, executable contracts, secure encryption, and consensus.
To this end, a few standards are beginning to emerge. These include Decentralized Identity Documents, but most are nascent efforts that reside on specific blockchains (public or private). In fact, the term “blockchain” is currently ambiguously interpreted as specifically referring to the Bitcoin blockchain, the Ethereum blockchain, or any number of Permissioned Distributed Ledger Technologies.
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Blockchain of the Future
It will require robust open communities to achieve interoperable identity standards across blockchains as envisioned by proponents of self-sovereign identity (SSI). This will free application developers from the current cacophony of identity formats and blockchain-specific ecosystems. Such identity formats will need to be long-lived, on chains that persist for decades using standards that accommodate evolving capabilities.
Long-term design is difficult, but not impossible. Indeed, standardization is likely to happen quickly, much as the Internet itself appeared almost overnight as a newly interoperable conglomeration of previously existing networks. When such convergence happens for identity, I predict that biometrics will become the primary method for linking you with identity claims on these blockchains, as it offers the most convenience. The question lies in how we deploy those solutions, and protect the biometric data independently of the blockchain itself.