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Regulating Civil Identity Issuance on the Blockchain in Switzerland

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According to United Nations projections, 68% of people will live in urban areas by 2050.
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According to United Nations projections, 68% of people will live in urban areas by 2050. This huge influx will undoubtedly put pressure on and strain existing government systems and processes. To ensure preparedness to face the challenges ahead, an increasing number of cities are seeking to take steps and measures to become "smart" cities.

The Swiss City of Zug, also known as the Crypto Valley, took the initiative to study blockchain-based digital identities to improve access to digital public services and increase efficiency, data security, and voting ability easily and quickly. It is common for most democratic regions to call citizens to vote in a number of elections, whether presidential, parliamentary, or local, and the selected representative makes political decisions on their behalf. This is called indirect democracy. Switzerland adopts this type of democracy that requires community members to head to ballot boxes four times per year to vote on a myriad of issues relevant to the regions or territories where they reside, such as smoking in restaurants, funding museums, or extending local bus routes. Although this is the most democratic government in modern times, it entails a cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming process.

Zug has leveraged uPort, a decentralized identity platform that aims at enabling the world’s first live implementation of a self-sovereign government-issued identity project on the Ethereum blockchain in collaboration with the government of Zug and the Institute for Financial Services Zug (IFZ) at the Lucerne University, in addition to TI&M, which is concerned with platform integration, and Luxoft to implement voting. In the summer of 2017, the team launched a pilot to register resident IDs on the public Ethereum blockchain. After the pilot, Zug officially released the program in November 2017.

The uPort identity model returns ownership of identity to the individual by allowing users to register their own identity on Ethereum, send and request credentials, sign transactions, and safely manage data on the open identity system. The city created its own identity on the public Ethereum network, which gave it the power to sign and check data. The city clerk is authorized to view Zug city identity using their personal uPort identity equipped with specific admin rights.

Zug residents need only to download the uPort ID app from the Apple Store and create a personal account. At this stage, the uPort app generates a unique private key representing the user’s identity on their phone to serve as the user’s identity agent. The user can also create a backup copy of their private key, allowing them to recover their identity if they lose their phone and lost access to it. With the app's setup, the user can fully control their identity and all their data.

To register, the user should visit Zug's website and scan the QR code to access Zug’s e-governmental platform for the first time. The user enters their date of birth and passport number on the website. The request is then cryptographically signed and sent to the city as a new Zug ID application. The user is requested to visit the citizen registration office (Einwohnerkontrolle) to verify in person all the details within 14 days. Once all the details are validated and confirmed, the city clerk issues verifiable credentials with the Zug ID signed by the city’s identity. Other public and private entities can provide their services to use the Zug ID in the uPort app. Moreover, community members can benefit from many services by showing their own Zug ID through the uPort app.

The city is currently evaluating several critical applications that will benefit from this new identity infrastructure. An example of such applications is access to all city services via the internet, bicycle rental services, car parking, borrowing books from the library, and the collection of other fees. The idea is that slight streamlining processes, such as the ability to borrow books without a library card or renting a bicycle without a deposit, will support individuals and make their lives easier and simpler.

AirBie, for example, is a bike-rental service exclusive to users of the uPort decentralized identity. It enabled customers to skip the tedious traditional registration steps, simply register by logging in to the uPort-enabled Zug ID, and leverage up to 20 hours of free AirBie access. At the time of writing this article, AirBie bicycles had been used more than 1,600 times by 90 users. It is certain that with time more and more complex applications will be developed and the eID platform will be employed in several areas, such as to rent a room in a hotel or a building by a third party.




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