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The Self-Governing Universal Passport Project

The events of 2020 have created a more compelling use case than ever for digital identities. Now that a COVID-19 vaccine is beginning to be rolled out, it seems almost inevitable that a health passport, proving that we aren’t a viral threat to others, will be featured in our futures.

Australian air carrier Qantas has been at the front of the pack of companies stating they’ll require an immunity certificate for a flight booking.

In the past month, seven major airlines including Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue and United Airlines have signed onto the World Economic Forum’s CommonPass programme which calls for global digital proof of vaccination tied to ID documents ahead of travel.

With the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine, the end of the pandemic’s stronghold seems to finally be in sight. However, this doesn’t mean that the next 12 months will instantly return to life before lockdown. Inevitably, technology will play a vital role in guiding our re-entry into an altered world.

The virus itself will of course still be in play next year. As such, most global futureproofing strategies revolve more around mitigation and living in our new normal, than eliminating the virus altogether. This has manifested in the concept of a global COVID-19 passport which would confirm our immunity and allow us to move, work, communicate, consume, exercise and interact more freely in the new normal. And now, after much discussion it seems the idea is nearing practical fruition.

The result of such a biometric digital identity is an ecosystem of universal trust and confidence. Businesses, venues, events and vendors can proceed in the knowledge that they are preventing guests from infection spikes while allowing them to rebuild their business and grow revenues. Meanwhile, the general population can look to re-enter society with reliable proof of their individual health and assurance of their digital security.

In particular, blockchain platforms such as the enterprise-focused Concordium use a cryptographic technique known as zero-knowledge proofs to help ensure that digital identities are self-sovereign. This feature allows people to retain control of their data in almost all everyday scenarios requiring an ID.

A universal passport that can be used globally allows its holder to pass through borders that they may not have otherwise known existed. It allows people from across the world to combine their knowledge and skills in various fields, including business, academics, government and travel. However, one of its biggest selling points is that it allows people to change their data at will. This means that anyone can design a unique and customized Universal Passport for themselves, ensuring they can use it for whatever purpose they see fit.

The Universal Passport was created by Nervos, a London-based developer organisation that specializes in creating secure and anonymous digital public services. According to its founders, the Universal Passport was born out of a need for a better international identification system, designed to help people identify themselves easily throughout the world. The developers behind the project believe that the best way to get this is to build a new infrastructure that is capable of managing multiple national identities within a multi-national context. Their design combines two distinct components: a blockchain and a database. The idea is that blockchain is an internet protocol that determines how the data stored within the database is communicated to the rest of the organisation. Meanwhile, the database is made up of secure information that is stored locally, allowing for easy access from any internet connection.

However, the two-pronged approach goes beyond the borders of Nervos. The developers believe that there are many other areas that the Universal Passport could potentially fill. In fact, in its current form, it’s already starting to challenge existing standards like the biometric data exchange protocol (BIPS), which is currently the only way for a smart card to provide a photo id. The biggest challenges to Nervos and the universal passport therefore revolve around its current lack of biometric functionality and its reliance on the existing ESSS technology. Owing to its reliance on established and well-understood technologies, any potential for new applications and improvements will have to be through the same existing source.

As the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that the blockchain will be used for other purposes than solely cryptocurrency.