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Microsoft, the ID2020 Alliance, universal digital identification and you

Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft logo

Microsoft logo (Image credit: Windows Central)

Our digital activity increasingly parallels our real-world activity. Participation in the modern economy, the ability to buy and sell, attain employment, healthcare, social services and more are virtually impossible without a digital identity. In May of 2016, at the United Nations Headquarters in NY, ID2020, an alliance of governments, non-profits, academia, over 150 private sector companies and 11 United Nations agencies collaborated on how to provide a unique digital identity to everyone on the planet.

Most coverage of the ID2020 Alliance focuses on its noble objective to provide digital identities to the over one billion refugees, women, children and others without any form of identification. The message of providing digital identification for this "invisible" portion of the earth's population to enable their participation in society places a human face over the true mission. It also creates a rallying point that this open alliance hopes other entities will, like Microsoft, embrace and become a part of this global effort.

The fundamental mission of creating a universal identification system that incorporates every person on the globe, using modern technology and the support of various governments, financial institutions and more is the goal hidden behind the humanitarian cause.

The ID2020 Alliance and its 2030 goal

According to the Alliance's Governance material "by 2030 it aims to have facilitated the scaling of a safe, verifiable, persistent digital identity system, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals" agreed upon by the United Nations." It's short-term focus toward that goal is the development and testing of the best technological solutions for digital identity; and working with governments and other entities in their implementation. The focus on the 1.5 billion people without identification is part of that short-term vision.

The long-term vision revolves around the Alliances "Case for Action" which states a convergence of trends provides an unprecedented opportunity to make a coordinated, concerted push towards the goal of universal digital identity. Those trends include political accord among United Nations members, growing global connectivity, emerging technologies and global calls for a new model of identity.

  • Political Unity: In 2015 all United Nations countries made a global commitment to provide legal identity for everyone by 2030.
  • Global connectivity: Smart device proliferation allows new registration methods and enables consistent interaction with identity data.
  • Emerging technology: Block-chain technology, like that used with Bitcoin, and into which Microsoft has invested to create a decentralized id (DID) makes secure and verifiable tech accessible to the masses.
  • New Identity Model: Consumers want a seamless and secure digital experience.

Microsoft, in a recent announcement regarding using blockchain technology for decentralized identification further articulated its support of this initiative stating, "Each of us needs a digital identity we own, one which securely and privately stores all elements of our digital identity."

Microsoft, blockchain and universal ids

In its announcement confirming its position as a founding member of the ID2020 Alliance Microsoft shared that it, developers and Alliance partners would be collaborating on a blockchain-based, open source identity system. This system would allow interoperability of people, apps, products and services across cloud providers, other blockchains and organizations.

Microsoft's goal is to help establish universal and scalable standards for these decentralized digital identities using blockchain technology. In a blockchain information exists as a shared database that is consistently reconciled. Blockchain data doesn't exist in a centralized location but is hosted on millions of computers across the internet. The Alliance is using this secure and virtually "unhackable" system to create a decentralized identity framework for the world's population.

If blockchains sound familiar, they should. Wallet apps like those used to buy things with popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are the user interface most people associate with blockchain technology. This technology has secure identity management at its core. It is upon this tech that Microsoft and the Alliance are evolving applications for global identity management.

This is about a global community and economy

Mobile technology is becoming increasingly important as a tool for proof-of-identity in various transaction scenarios including buying and selling merchandise online or in person, using mass transit, opening hotel room doors, participating in amusement parks and much more. Our smartphones are currently the primary portal intricately interweaving our digital identities with our physical world.

Understanding this, the GSMA, an alliance of nearly 800 mobile operators, is seeking to simplify SIM card registration by promoting flexible approaches towards proof-of-identity requirements for forcibly displaced people so they can access mobile services, SIM-based energy services and wallets.

This onboarding of even the disenfranchised onto the digital landscape is paramount to the ID2020 Alliances goal to provide a universally accepted identification system for everyone on the planet. It is important to note this identification system's objective is to create the foundation to unify the world's citizens participation in a global community and universal digital economy. Secure and verifiable identity, as with any digital transaction, is foundational to this vision.

Obvious concerns

The alliance stresses that digital identity is the cornerstone of international development and believes a digital identity should be with a person from birth to death. This objective being pursued by a global collaborative raises many ethical concerns.

As the digital landscape becomes more pervasive, the lines between the physical and real world continue to blur. If the lack of a digital identity under the current paradigm limits participation in the modern economy, the lack of the same under a singular globally recognized system could prevent participation entirely.

If the Alliance's goal is a globally recognized digital identity for everyone from birth to death, will that become a global mandate? How will it be enforced and by whom? What happens to those individuals who are unwilling to participate? Will they be persecuted? And how will the implementation of identification evolve with technology beyond smartphones? Will wearables, implant's like those being used in Swedish subways or some form of digital tattoo become the norm?

As more and more transactions become digital in nature and are built around a single global identification standard, supported by Microsoft, the question of who will govern this evolving global community and economy becomes relevant. Especially since nonparticipants in this system would be unable to buy or sell goods or services.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

29 Comments
  • I've never needed an analogue identity card to prove who I am, why would I need a digital identity card? Are we really imagining that companies would turn down cash from customers because they don't show their papers when challenged? Yea, right. If that starts happening then the first company to buck the trend will take a huge lump of custom from everyone else. Perhaps Bitcoin is to be more important than we thought? What this says, more than anything else, is that we all need to be far more routinely secretive in our online dealings. I for one will never participate in this nonsense and I'll be far from alone in that. I'm now considering actively creating pseudo-people on the net who I can assume to do whatever. We really need some bot cover to run these pseudo-people so when we need to 'be' one they have a believable history. Any recommendations?
  • I'm leery of this too, but also intrigued. If this identity could be the only repository of personal information allowed, meaning the end of the surveillance marketing economy, I'm all in.
  • Huh? You've never had to provide your ID when making a purchase? Doctor visits, buying a cellphone, buying a car, paying with a credit card...all of these things require identification to prove who you are... And I think plenty of companies would turn down sales that could potentially be fraudulent.
  • And how many of those purchases are you unable to make online right now without this certfying tool? I'm more concerned about my privacy regarding comments, posts and political stance online and stuff like job interviewers using this as a search tool. I can't imagine how having a searchable govt ID will help privacy when you literally now do have ONE THING tying your entire web history together now. Ad companies already sell obscene amounts of our data becasue it's availiable digitally and there's nothing stopping them, how much worse does that get in a world where your ID is digital too... meaning someone with a copy literally has the original too.
  • Before this was all announced I was already thinking about digital IDs, blockchain, and trolls. I'd like to see the ID record commenting ratings and troll reports as a "trustworthiness" type score. With blockchain there should be a way to do this without revealing identities. Obviously needs some figuring out, but I do like the potential.
  • I live in the UK and it have been many years since I had to use some form of I.D and that was when I moved my bank acount and that was over 25 years ago. I only had one credit and only needed to take my energy bill to prove where I lived and that was about it.  As for mobile phones, never had to use I.D,     
  • Nope, I can visit the doctor without ID, buy a phone, buy a car, use a credit card (don't have one but you know...) all without ID. In the UK we don't have ID cards. I don't need one and will never carry one. If they tried to bring them in, I would not co-operate. I would not be happy about being arrested, but better than carrying forced ID.
  • No idea where you live, but every country I've lived in (several) has required ID in order to open bank accounts, get a driver's licence etc. How do you do it where you live? No ID needed for this kind of stuff?
  • Easy operate cash only
  • Proof of address is showing a utility bill. No need for carrying ID.
  • Bullshit, you have a passport
  • I don't. or a driving licence, whihc in the #UK a driving licence can be used as I.D.    
  • "Are we really imagining that companies would turn down cash from customers because they don't show their papers when challenged?" No, but I recently read an article about restraunts no longer accepting cash at all; only credit/debit cards.  https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/msn/the-problem-with-cashless-restaurants...  
  • Good point. We're move more and more toward a cashless society. The cashier-less Amazon Store concept really drive that home.
  • Hmm, sounds like a US thing. If you can't scratch a window with it, I don't accept it.
  • ID Tattoo: 666
  • I used to hear this in church, sounds quite familiar
  • Stick that idea, they tried to do some sort of I.D in the UK a few years back and that failed and I would have refused to be part of it, so no way will I be part of any digital I.D and certainly not if MS have anything to do with it.  
  • We've had it here in Sweden for years (BankID) and it makes life a hell of a lot easier in so many ways.
  • Driver license a d social security is good enough for me
  • Yeah, but will my identity fold? Bottom line, i like some of the stuff ms makes, i absolutely detest these totalitarian developments under phoney pretenses. It's not only about buying and selling, it's about control. Freaking fact is that the entire discussion about tech and privacy has already been done to death by much greater minds than those involved now way before tech reached this level, and yet ******** like natella and the UN keep pushing and pushing this dystopian nightmare. MS, and others for that matter, should try to establish the exact opposite of what they are trying, meaning complete privacy. That's empowering, to use one of their favorite empty buzzwords. Oh, and one more thing. Who the hell believes that is about identity for africans. Come on now, even their false pretenses are completely retarded. Rant over, it's pointless, people want to be controlled and monitered. On a positive note, very informative warditorial:)
  • You sir are correct. I agree completely.
  • As a tech enthusiast, I love hearing about tech advancements and I can see all kinds of benefits to this stuff. As a health care professional, it would be very cool if someone comes to emergency unconscious and we could access their id and health info in seconds...it could save lives!  It could help solve or stop things like human trafficking. It would make it easy to buy from the store, open door locks, stop car theft because you couldn't start your car without the correct digital ID, maybe you couldn't shoot a gun unless it was connected to your own digital id.  Awesome possibilities!  This article was detailing some of this stuff 3 years ago:  http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/chip-implants-benea...    As someone who believes the Bible, this shouldn't be surprising, but it is still incredible to see happening in front of our eyes.  The Book of the Revelations foretells globalization, one world government, global currency, and a global identification system with a mark on a person's hand or forehead. That is pretty precise! We are watching it happen! Like pieces of a puzzle falling into place.  Should make us all stop and think!  #can'tstopthis  #God'snotdead  Most nations told God to take a hike a long time ago.  And God is just watching people screw this planet up, but He is also ready, willing and able to save any and all people who search for God with all their heart!  Just sayin:)
  • You lost me when you said the U.N. is pushing this.   Pass.    
  • It will fail anyway, I can not imagine countries like China and Russia bothering with it. china got their own system already and I do not know if russia have or not, but do you really think they will trust something like this coming out of the United states? Then you have other countries that will not allow it and there are too many people against this sort of thing anyway,  look at the UK a few years back when the Labour government at the time wanted to bring in an ID card, so many people joined forces and said they would refuse to register, thankfully the next government abandoned the idea, not before it cost this country a lot of money.  
  • Hi ad47uk, it's not coming out of the US, it's coming out of the United Nations.
  • The Unitied Nations is a complete waste of time, just another organisation who think they can tell countries what to to do. time it was disbanded.    Anyway Ms is US and i bet most of the other private companies involved in this project are based in the U.S and going by U.S privacy, I think I will stay well clear.  
  • Interesting times where abstract upon reasoning has increased to a point we are discussing the true self in light of a digital identity. The concrete seems to fall into fakeness, but the reality is oposite, or is it? Heavy matrix-type morality! It reminds me how far we've come in intelligence. Reminds me of this ted talk too: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+james+flynn+ted&view=detail...
  • Damn, how prophetic was this article? Look at the **** storm the world's in now with Bill Gates, the UN & ID2020 in the news for the wrong reasons