15J/ DIGITAL ID as a Response to Climate Change

From IIW

Digital Identity as a Response to Climate Change

Session Convener: Shannon E. Wells of Unfinished Labs

Notes-taker(s): Same

Tags / links to resources / technology discussed, related to this session:

Prompted by this article in Discover Magazine (https://www.discovermagazine.com/environment/can-the-blockchain-give-this-island-nation-threatened-by-climate-change-a)

Discussion notes, key understandings, outstanding questions, observations, and, if appropriate to this discussion: action items, next steps:

Wanted to discuss this particular response by the Tuvaluans to their situation; they are at risk of going completely under water. Points of discussion:

  • Is their plan (digital identity, digitizing currency, governance as well as cultural assets such as literature, lore and music) the best plan?
  • How did the main driver of this plan, George Sosi Samuels, arrive at these particular solutions, and would they have been different if he were aware of this organization beforehand?
  • Does this suggest other threatened nations, groups or municipalities to reach out to?

Using digital verifiable credentials was also mentioned by Patrick M. as a way of tracking and providing accountability in carbon trading programs, however, he unfortunately had to leave the session. We would like to return to this topic in the future.

Shannon began the discussion by summarizing the article, saying that this was a response to the threat of losing a national identity, government infrastructure and access to wealth due to rising sea levels. More citizens are working and living abroad and sending money home to family. The need was seen for following the model of e-Estonia.

Shannon also referenced the Rohingya Project as another example of people responding to crisis with technological solutions (https://rohingyaproject.com/)

Chris Kelly observed that Tuvalu is small enough that there are a lot fewer trust barriers to overcome when instituting such a plan. Everyone more or less knows each other and so consensus and communication are easier. Also there is no need for an elaborate structure to prevent corruption and to increase trust.

Most agreed that the situation is special enough to not be able to draw very many widely applicable ideas from it.

Another thought from Samuel Gbota was that digitizing everyone’s identity isn’t very helpful without designed interoperability. If there is a diaspora of the nation’s citizens it won’t help them much if the IDs are not recognized by other nations.

Robert Reddick said that there are three situations to consider when deciding whether SSI and other digitization is an option. In “normal life” where you have generally enough resources for an effort, but the risk of loss is low (making it harder to approach someone with the possibility). Next, where a group is aware of a crisis and its risks, and preparing for it, or considering how to prepare for it. Finally is crisis mode in which case people are generally worried about meeting basic needs.

It seems that rarely are people willing to find solutions to problems that haven’t started surfacing yet and that people will be most receptive to possible solutions when they’ve recognized they are at risk and wanting to prepare. RR added that preparing for a crisis is largely a matter of organization. Then “how can organizing rest on top of identity,” he asked, saying adopting SSI can be hard because it’s a mitigation instead of prevention. He also recognized that a lot of people would be left out of an SSI/digital solution because they simply don’t have the technology and infrastructure, and asked why telecoms don’t just give away phones.

Anmol Sekhri replied that giving everyone a smart phone will not really work for people who don’t have electricity and while technically not under “crisis” meaning famine, war or natural disaster, still have problems meeting basic needs. Secondly there is the language barrier as many people don’t speak languages that are generally supported by smartphones.

Also there is the issue of education; if people don’t have electricity they will generally not be in a position to know how to use smart phones. Furthermore there is a risk of digital colonialism.

This does not seem to be an issue with the two projects above as these were started by members of those communities.

The discussion also sparked a memory for Samuel about how two young children came up with a solution to poaching in their region by installing microphones around the area, and training an AI on the sounds of human footsteps and cars, so that the sounds, if detected, would be triangulated and authorities could go check out the source. He said that these were two young children who came up with this solution, so it’s clear that people are in a position to help themselves in ways they need help, if given the knowledge and opportunity.