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Illinois Tests A Blockchain-Based Birth Registry/ID System (illinoisblockchain.tech) 151

An anonymous reader quotes Government Technology: The state of Illinois, which has six blockchain pilots underway, will partner with Utah-based Evernym for a birth registry pilot meant to individualize and secure identities... The endeavor, one of six distinct blockchain explorations Illinois began last summer with a working group, is expected to utilize the Sovrin Foundation's publicly available distributed identity ledger and expand upon accomplishments of the W3C Verifiable Claims Task Force, the state said... Recognizing that identity -- and, now, digital identity -- begin at birth, the state will explore using these technologies to create "a secure 'self-sovereign' identity for Illinois citizens during the birth registration process," it said in the announcement.
More from the Illinois Blockchain Initiative site: Self-sovereign identity refers to a digital identity that remains entirely under the individual's control. A self-sovereign identity can be efficiently and securely validated by entities who require it, free from reliance on a centralized repository. Jennifer O'Rourke, Blockchain Business Liaison for the Illinois Blockchain Initiative commented, "To structurally address the many issues surrounding digital identity, we felt it was important to develop a framework that examines identity from its inception at child birth... Identity is not only foundational to nearly every government service, but is the basis for trust and legitimacy in the public sector."

In the proposed framework, government agencies will verify birth registration information and then cryptographically sign identity attributes such as legal name, date of birth, sex or blood type, creating what are called "verifiable claims" or attributes. Permission to view or share each of these government-verified claims is stored on the tamper-proof distributed ledger protocol in the form of a decentralized identifier... This minimizes the need for entities to establish, maintain and rely upon their own proprietary databases of identity information.

Evernym's "Chief Trust Officer" sees the program as "a major contribution to the larger effort of solving the online identity problem."
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Illinois Tests A Blockchain-Based Birth Registry/ID System

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  • Wow, what an incredibly good idea. It seems to me like this is exactly what block chain does best.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Without having read the article, I can tell you that someone's definitely going to name their kid Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;-- [xkcd.com] or similar if this goes anywhere.

      And when that happens, we'll all be here to laugh at their dumb asses for riding the blockchain bandwagon.
      IMO blockchain is a solution in search of a problem.

    • by MangoCats ( 2757129 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @09:17AM (#55218277)

      Wow, what an incredibly boring application.

      Who is going to validate the block chain? What is their incentive? How are we going to trust it any better than we currently trust the state department of records? What exactly are we gaining by this?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is no online identity problem, just a couple of power-hungry fascists who can't grasp the idea of anonymity or why it's essential to the internet. Without anonymity, you have no internet, just another government-approved propaganda outlet like TV.

    • There is no online identity problem, just a couple of power-hungry fascists who can't grasp the idea of anonymity or why it's essential to the internet. Without anonymity, you have no internet, just another government-approved propaganda outlet like TV.

      And with anonymity, you give the impression you are either insufficiently invested, or too afraid, to have your opinions associated with an identity. And what makes you think you can't have government-approved propaganda WITH anonymity?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Without anonymity, you have no internet, just another government-approved propaganda outlet like TV.

      I believe it is the other way around -- If you have Internet, there is no anonymity. Even though it sounds the same, it is actually not but rather overlapped.

      • You are correct. The Internet flattens out the map, and includes everybody on it. In ways no authoritarian could have imagined 50 years ago. The psuedo anonymnity that peole get while 'hiding' behind an ip address that by definition is traceable is a little weird, but people need fantasy in their lives.

    • There is no online identity problem,

      Yes there is. I used to work for a state govt agency and fake Identities and the associated fraud were a huge problem costing taxpayers millions a year. A Blockchain solution can eliminate this if done properly.

      • Fake identities are only a problem when large and overreaching amounts of power are wielded by entities that control the means to validate identities. Make everything a little more local and democratic and the problem evaporates.

        I know... you can't hide in your big fucking cities if your neighborhood becomes a district where everybody knows each other. Fetishes are no fun if we're open about them, etc. and so on...

        • Fake identities are only a problem when large and overreaching amounts of power are wielded by entities that control the means to validate identities. Make everything a little more local and democratic and the problem evaporates.

          Exactly, which is why I said blockchain solves this. It democratises the identity problem.

      • ... if done properly.

        Maybe we could verify the blockchain using Equifax?

        • Ironically the product VP of Evernym, James Monaghan recently said on twitter [twitter.com] "Don't be Equifax. Design for trust instead".

          However this entire announcement seems to be post-Equifax noise to drive additional funding to Evernym, in order to bolster the $750,000 they received from the Department of Homeland Security in May as part of their Small Business Innovation Research initiative (which, strangely, was kept quite quiet at the time).
  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1&hotmail,com> on Monday September 18, 2017 @03:47AM (#55217397)
    Isn't blockchain mostly for transactions that will never be modified/reversed or are single well-defined actions at a point in time, like transfers of money or sales?

    Information about people is complex. What if something about the birth record changes or needs to be corrected?

    We already know the saying, databases are real easy to create, impossible to correct. What do you expect the ability of a government agency to properly administer some new technology like this will be?

    Is this really needed?
    • In my understanding it is about trust and verification?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        In my understanding it is about trust and verification?

        It's a good example of a word ('trust') being used while the opposite is meant.

        Birth certificates, ID's and other legal documents are all about distrust, not about trust.

        In a world where everyone trusted each other, id's, legal documents and contracts would not be needed.

        • In a world where everyone trusted each other, Nigerian scams would be far more common and far more profitable than they already are.

          A little distrust is a good thing.

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          Love him or hate him, Ronnie's "trust, but verify" is the right thing to do.

    • Re:why? why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FalcDot ( 1224920 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @05:19AM (#55217597)

      Actually, since we're talking about data that can be changed and/or corrected over time, it is vital to store all this data as an initial set, accompanied by precisely timestamped changes. Because if something occurred when the data was incorrect, or with a previous version of the data, then that exact situation needs to remain preserved for posterity.

      If I sign my name to a contract today and I legally change my name tomorrow, then that contract needs to remain valid. Having a tamper-proof ledger that correctly records what my name was at the time of the signing, and what my name is right now, means that no-one can claim the contract is no longer valid just because of the name change.

      • Re:why? why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Monday September 18, 2017 @06:51AM (#55217783) Homepage Journal

        I've been trying to imagine what a society where identities are disposable would be like. On the internet it's easy to change your identity, you just create a new account. Bans are basically impossible, all they can do it make it slightly harder but never impossible to generate a new identity and carry on using the service.

        The benefit of being able to change your identity at any time is that you can move on from mistakes, or reputation bombing, or keep different parts of your life (work, politics, family) separate. There has been a lot of talk about how politics should not result in you losing your job lately, for example.

        That would mean that punishments would have to be temporary and only affect one identity. At the moment, even after you come out of jail your criminal record follows you around, so we would have to change our idea of what prison is - a place for rehabilitation, that you come out of when you are no longer a danger to society.

        Of course generating a new identity has its down sides. You start with no reputation, no credit history, and people who know you remember your previous incarnations.

        I think it's worth speculating about, if only to better understand how poorly we manage identity now.

        • Re:why? why? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Gussington ( 4512999 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @08:45AM (#55218149)

          I've been trying to imagine what a society where identities are disposable would be like....

          I think it's worth speculating about, if only to better understand how poorly we manage identity now.

          People have already thought about it which is why things like this are happening, I helped implement one here in my state.
          When dealing with the govt, you can create as many online 'identities' as you like. You then choose if you want to use the same identity across all agencies, or use individual ones for each. Blockchain merely makes this a whole lot easier to validate your reputation. Regardless of your 'identity' used, the other party can choose to transact with you or not based on reputation (rather than govt issued ID which really isn't that reliable).
          Ultimately an identity is just a reputation, and only blockchain technology can give the most reliable way to validate this.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        A blockchain doesn't know what digital signatures go with what legal person or who was in control of the signing keys or if they've been duped into signing false information. All that security comes from digital certificates. The only thing a blockchain prevents is rewriting history, like a running checksum that depends on all the previous entries. So the government can't go back and say "no, we never said Bill was now Bob", but if anyone else kept a digitally signed copy of that it'd be proof enough. It's

      • Sounds great, until an honest mistake is made and needs to be rectified. In the current system, there's an override that allows us to correct mistakes such that they aren't visible and don't bias any reader's view of the information their reading. Making a system too indelible will marginalise a minority, not for actions they've ever taken, but for actions someone else took, potentially many years ago.

        None of that means this is a bad idea, but it doesn't make it a good one either.

    • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @05:39AM (#55217639) Homepage

      Isn't blockchain mostly for transactions that will never be modified/reversed or are single well-defined actions at a point in time, like transfers of money or sales?

      And in the same vein of "Why?" :

      - The whole purpose of blockchain is to have NO central authority, but a distributed public trust.
      (customer A gives money to company B and no central authority is needed to confirm it, as long as both A and B use the bitcoin protocol)

      - The whole point of a Birth registry is TO HAVE a central authority.
      (in case of doubt, check the *official* birth certificate with authority XyZ)

      So it seems even weirder to me. it doesn't seem very useful.

      Information about people is complex. What if something about the birth record changes or needs to be corrected?

      In theory you could still add "amend" records updating the database in the blockchain.
      (Just like the "well-defined actions at a point in time transfers of money" can be followed by subsequent further "transfers of money" - e.g.: spending money previously received).

      In practice that is going to be problematic, because some of this information is personnal - I would guess sex changes, in some jurisdiction : the person doesn't necessarily want that the history of past sex identities to be publicly known.

      In a blockchain technological implementation, all the history NEEDS to be available for the public consensus mecanism to work.

      In a authority clasiccal implementation, the authority might only provide the latest official version publicly and keep the access to the history restricted to the person (and medical personnel)

      • Yes I'm skeptical about the usefulness in this case. Voting would seem a more appropriate use of the tech.. votem is working on that though.
      • Central vs decentral (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:39AM (#55217901)

        Isn't blockchain mostly for transactions that will never be modified/reversed or are single well-defined actions at a point in time, like transfers of money or sales?

        I think a birth fits that definition rather well.

        - The whole purpose of blockchain is to have NO central authority, but a distributed public trust. - The whole point of a Birth registry is TO HAVE a central authority.

        No, the purpose is to be able to verify data. Centralization or the lack thereof is a side effect - possibly a useful one but a side effect all the same. There is no inherent reason a birth registry has to be centralized. It just has been because it was was the most expedient and reliable process at the time to do so at the time most birth registries were developed. If anything it would be more useful to have a decentralized registry of such public records if it could be done safely and reliably because it become more robust if you have multiple copies. I have family that had critical master copies of documents (birth certificates and military records) lost in fires because they were centrally stored with inadequate backups.

        Now whether a blockchain is a good use for this specific problem is something I haven't given serious thought to but it's an interesting question. I've said for a long time that Bitcoin is an idiotic implementation of a currency by people who generally value ideology over evidence in economics. But the blockchain technology it relies upon is actually really promising for a wide variety of practical applications and is probably the most valuable thing about bitcoin.

        • by jediborg ( 4808835 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @02:30PM (#55220631)
          Here is the main problem I see with using the Blockchain for identity purposes:
          1. 1) Government Introduces fancy new blockchain identity system
          2. 2) I take your Government-issued-id, social-security-number (stolen via already used methods) and maybe even your fingerprint that I lifted from your coffee mug
          3. 3) I take your 'records' to the government office, register your info in the blockchain, and get the private key sent to myself
          4. 4) I now have control over your blockchain-issued identity. I can use this to conduct identity theft, getting credit cards, wellfare, car loans, all in your name
          5. 5) Now because the blockchain is 'immutable' unless all the miners on the blockchain are government owned, no one can 'correct' the entry I have control of your identity and no one can change it! bwahahaha

          The ONE SINGULAR benefit of centralized government control of this database is that I can go to a judge and say 'this guy isn't me, someone stole my identity, and I think that someone is Jim'. Then the judge can have jim brought before the court, have him tried of identity theft, and even if jim doesn't get jail time, the judge can have the government documents modified so that I am now in control, I can use the law to have the credit reporting agencies correct their reports and scrub the entries created by JIM because I have the judicial verdict to show them

      • by evought ( 709897 )

        In practice that is going to be problematic, because some of this information is personnal - I would guess sex changes, in some jurisdiction : the person doesn't necessarily want that the history of past sex identities to be publicly known.

        Yes, and there are many other situations where there is a long legal tradition of retroactive and potentially sealed changes to a birth record:

        1. Retroactive citizenship changes.
        2. Adoption out of a dangerous situation, i.e. where the child becomes a ward of the state and is subsequently adopted because of abusive or criminal parents who may be an ongoing danger to the child's life and well-being.
        3. Adoption where the biological parent insists on confidentiality.
        4. Witness protection (or similar legal name-changes c
    • There's no reason you can't ammend data using block chain. It's just a untamperable database, which means that there will be a record with your birth name and parents, and later a record showing your surname change when you marry, as an example. Both are still there.
      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Sometimes that amended data needs to stay private. My wife was adopted, which meant being issued a new birth certificate with a completely different name on it. Often records of adoption are sealed, how do you seal off the records before she was 3 years old and her name change?

        • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

          Just because the data can ve verified by everyone doesn't mean the plain text of the data has to be visible to everyone. That is one of the advantages of blockchain.

      • Which means that if this goes into production then it's good night for the witness protection program and undercover cops.
    • Isn't blockchain mostly for transactions that will never be modified/reversed or are single well-defined actions at a point in time, like transfers of money or sales?

      Yes, that's the whole point, What is an identity other than a history of transactions you've had with others?

      Information about people is complex.

      Complexity not a blocker

      What if something about the birth record changes or needs to be corrected?

      How do you correct transactions now? You make an error, and you correct it. With block chain both error and correction transactions are on record and are verifiable. I fail to see an issue here, in fact it makes it more robust

      We already know the saying, databases are real easy to create, impossible to correct. What do you expect the ability of a government agency to properly administer some new technology like this will be?

      Difficult to correct because the govt alone owns and controls the data. With Blockchain that power shifts back to the people.

      Is this really needed?

      Having worked on a governmen

    • Issue a patch - just like software, you're not _supposed_ to need to change it once you've released it.

    • Yes. Blockchain is a buzzword and not useful here. What you're looking for is public-key identity (PKI is public-key infrastructure) based on a non-shared-secret challenge-response.

      Today, we can implement this simply by using FIDO devices (UAF/U2F), wherein a user walks into a bank, shows their hard ID (driver's license, passport, etc.), and then establishes a trust with a third-party entity (such as a Credit Reporting Agency--TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). I've described this for credit fraud [facebook.com] (Yo [youtube.com]

  • St00pid, as usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @04:06AM (#55217443)
    All the blockchain ideas are incredibly stupid. It's like a law of nature. Just take any idea, add "blockchain", "sovereign", "decentralized" and it becomes instantly trendy.

    No, blockchain won't help you to establish your identity. It's your private key that you use to sign blockchain updates that establishes it. And if your key is stolen then it's game over for you - somebody ELSE will be owning your identity. Forever. With no recourse for you.

    All realistic proposals (including the one in TFA) include key revocation protocols through some kind of central authority (i.e. government), at which point the whole system becomes indistinguishable from a simple centralized database.
    • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @04:27AM (#55217501)

      Your typical birth registry DB is SIGNIFICANTLY easier to tamper with. With blockchain you can have MILLIONS of copies as an authoritative source".

      It is true that compromising the cryptographic proof of blockchain tech may cause identity theft to be far less believed and thus so much more destructive but it is also significantly harder AND the tech is constantly improving.

      Key revocation can be automated via all nodes/clients in the chain and with multi-factor multi-key signing it becomes significantly harder to tamper with the system,

      Short story, you have your private key, government has their key - decentralized and autonomous solution requires (outside of logins) BOTH keys to produce a unique signature. This is FAR more secure than the current system.

      Blockchain can do more for securing your identity than current methods. Faking national insurance or the like is so much easier.

      You may be a smart person but this time you gave an uninformed comment.

      While it is true that there's a lot of buzz and hype about blockchain it does not make it any less a game changer. Literally will change the world we live in.
      • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
        Tampering is not really an issue with regular government databases. The problem is usually improper access - and blockchains are by design public.

        I don't really understand your point about "improving tech" - if your private key is stolen then it's over, no matter what tech you're using. And 2FA doesn't even apply if you keep your key locally. I also don't understand WTF you're talking about "both keys".
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Where is the motivation here for the decentralization. I mean who is going to provide the encrypting power and host copies of this?
        I wonder if this kind of thing was designed by a committee that wanted to add blockchain to something because it is a great buzz word.
        How about simply saying we will secure a database, it might not be perfect but it works (it is working.) maybe they have a host of benefits which are totally non obvious, I just doubt it.

        • Where is the motivation here for the decentralization. I mean who is going to provide the encrypting power and host copies of this?

          The many govt agencies, banks, finance companies, big employers, basically anyone who has an interest in validating your reputation, just like they do now.

          I wonder if this kind of thing was designed by a committee that wanted to add blockchain to something because it is a great buzz word.

          Or people smarter than you have thought about it and can see a better way to do identity.

          How about simply saying we will secure a database, it might not be perfect but it works (it is working.) maybe they have a host of benefits which are totally non obvious, I just doubt it.

          How about simply saying horses might not be perfect but they still get us from A to B. Let's forget about cars and planes and stuff. Are you sure you're in the right place?

      • It is true that compromising the cryptographic proof of blockchain tech may cause identity theft to be far less believed and thus so much more destructive but it is also significantly harder AND the tech is constantly improving.

        Yes it makes someone stealing your identity harder. But it makes the proliferation of fake IDs trivial. If there's no central authority, what's to stop someone from flooding the decentralized database with a bunch of fake birth IDs every day. Then in the future if you need a fake

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @04:19AM (#55217475)

    You know, the one using the letters G, A, T, and C.

    (I think I saw a movie [wikipedia.org] that did this ... and nothing went wrong.)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If the birth is verified and signed by an agency key then what happens when the agencies private signing key is inevitably leaked (probably via a USB key dropped on a bus or something). Presumably, that means that it would be fairly easy to construct a totally false identity.. You can't just stop trusting real identities that now are signed with an untrusted key?

  • You absolutely do not need to share your real identity with anyone. Until you can't get a job, sign up for a utility, get a phone, get a driver's license, get a bank account, or otherwise participate in society without doing so. But really! It's your choice! Not that it's legal for you to just go off into the woods on someone else's land. Or buy land without registering with your Real Identity. Or leave the country without proving your identity. Nope, no pressure. Do anything you like. Throw away your key i
  • In the UK, at least, it's normal for children not to have any kind of name until weeks after they are born. And when people change their sex they often don't want that information to be permanently embedded in any kind of public record. So I would have thought that a paper document or a standard government database would be a much better solution that any kind of "blockchain", however fashionable that concept may be.

  • or quantum encryption or photographic evidence or eye-witnesses testifying under oath.

    People will still believe that Obama wasn't born in America.

    Perhaps only if it was in the Bible (and in BOTH testaments and inscribed on the Ten Commandments and the Dead Sea scrolls) would they be willing put aside their prejudices (by the way, that word is derived from PRE JUDGMENT) to face reality. Why? Because these people, and I'll call a spade a spade here, are RACIST. (And I'm not even Black!) No amount of techn

  • With the Bitcoin blockchain there is a reward for helping to maintain the ledger (chain) -- that reward being coins and transaction fees granted to the person successfully adding a block to the chain. Security is created by having lots of distributed computing power owned by different people that all have the common goal of maintaining the integrity of the system. The system can be compromised if a single actor controls more than half of the computing power, but since lots of different people are financiall
  • DNA enhancements to make a QR code appear on your hand...why not? Hell, Sweden is putting chips in your skin for your "convenience".
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @10:28AM (#55218633)

    Here is how we do it in Belgium
    1) When you are born or when you become an official person you get a National ID. This is your date of birth, an increasing number and a control number.
    That is you. However that number is NOT to identify you. It is to be used AFTER identification. If this would somehow be broken for whatever reason, you can get a new one.
    2) You get an ID. Since forever when you are 12. This ID is used to well, ID you. There is a number of the ID. You can verify if an ID is valid or not on https://www.checkdoc.be/ [checkdoc.be] If it is stolen or lost you call it in and it will be blocked right away. You will have to go to the police for a temp one if they stop you (e.g. when you where speeding) and you can not do anything where you would need an ID, like take a loan. You will have to get a new ID. That take up to 2 weeks.

    The data on the chip can be read via open source https://eid.belgium.be/en [belgium.be] Source is available for also Linux, so you can read the code.
    That ID is to, well, ID you.

    The downside is that you can not block what can be read. That means that if it is read, they can read your address and age. So they could spam you. As long as you not put it in every reader you see, scamming is a lot harder (never impossible)

    The thing is that the ID is not unique. You need to replace it every 5 years. It can be lost or stolen. The fact that that is possible is a GOOD thing, because that means the procedure is in place that theft is an option. Having something in place that can not be (easily) changed is the issue.

    Companies, once they have identified you, will use the National Number. But only after identification. At that moment it becomes easier to use. However when identification is needed (e.g. if you want to increase your credit limit) you will need your ID again to identify you.

    So US, it is open source, use it as you please.

    • The notion of a national ID is anathema to much of the US population and it's something that both Democrats and Republicans don't want. Depending on who you're talking to, it's because of racial issues, immigration issues, a backdoor means for gun control, warrantless information gathering on US citizens, or some other form of unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.

      That's the whole point with a system like what Illinois is putting together. It's state-run, so it evades a lot of the federal ove

  • I'd like everyone involved in this project to imaging giving their grandmother a lifetime ID that can never be replaced that requires grandma to keep her private key, a 512-bit string of digits, secure from hackers, hard drive crashes, agencies with sloppy security, malware, malicious other people, ransomeware, a single typo in a long string of gibberish, back backup operational procedures, and misunderstanding the difference between her private-key, her public-key, her wallet, her address, her seed phrase,

    • I'd like everyone involved in this project to imaging giving their grandmother a lifetime ID that can never be replaced that requires grandma to keep her private key, a 512-bit string of digits, secure from hackers, hard drive crashes, agencies with sloppy security, malware, malicious other people, ransomeware, a single typo in a long string of gibberish, back backup operational procedures, and misunderstanding the difference between her private-key, her public-key, her wallet, her address, her seed phrase, and her encryption password.

      Sounds like a user interface problem.

      Somewhat less glibly, that sounds like a user interface problem that could also be improved with the use of hardware keys, like smartcards or Yubikeys. When Grandma can no longer keep track of her car keys, then she might have a problem with her ID keycard, but until then, she should be good to go, if the interface is reasonable.

      The anonymous coward's comment about the government losing control of its root key seems to be a far worse problem, though that too is manageab

  • The state should not be jumping on the latest fad of blockchains but instead should stick with a tried and true technology like letters and numbers, writing, print, things that have been proven for thousands of years.

    The problem with blockchain and such is that it is so new the probabilities are it will not be around for long.

  • How about block-chaining digital evidence in a criminal case?

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