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Verifiable Credentials: the future of your documents

By chuy Cepeda


Consider the following. Take out your physical wallet and start laying out all your cards on the table. Credit cards, IDs, driver's license, health insurance card, work ID, university ID, all of them.


Now think, do you believe that all the institutions that issued those credentials share a database and communicate with each other technologically? The answer is likely no, at least not all of them. But then, why do all the cards have the same height, length, and width?


Perhaps someone at some point realized that it would be very inconvenient to issue credentials of various sizes and have to give us a separate wallet for each credential to store them. Sounds absurd, right?


Well, that's what has been happening in the digital world, where physical dimensions are not the problem but the height, length, and width of the data formats of each institution that issues our credentials and therefore forced us to have many places and users to store the credentials that each one issued.

This brought with it terrible inefficiencies, especially in the public sector, to coordinate parties when sharing information, and an even greater problem when we try to verify the truthfulness of information. According to McKinsey, this amounts to $3.5 trillion lost globally each year in government inefficiencies. But this distrust of digital information also imposes billion-dollar costs on our society in notary and information verification services, security, fraud, identity theft, and above all, a high cost to our privacy and democracy.


With the maturity of blockchain technology and the rise of web3, this could completely change the game. Verifiable Credentials

While we have described how the web3 is characterized by the "connect wallet" moment, the interesting part comes when we learn to use that wallet beyond just connecting it and actually turn it into our real wallet, carrying documents, credentials, and even digital money.


A document associated with our DID, that is, a document within our wallet, is known as a verifiable credential. Like a physical document or plastic card in our wallet, it contains information about an individual or entity, but the difference is that it can be cryptographically verified against any manipulation, fraud, expiration, revocation, and even the fact of being authentic, without the need for any intermediary entity to validate it.


Imagen de ec.europa.eu

Potential uses

Some of the most interesting uses for verifiable credentials lie in things like educational degrees, professional licenses, government credentials, medical history, property titles, identification documents, and other types of credentials used to prove the identity, age, qualifications, or specific attributes of a person or entity.


Furthermore, being digital allows us to share them under a privacy scheme known as selective disclosure, which would be like showing our driver's license only to demonstrate that we have the ability to drive a car but not allowing anyone to see any other details associated with that credential unless required.


Imagen de la W3C. Usos potenciales de las credenciales verificables

How do they work


​​A credential can be issued, asserted, verified, stored, moved, retrieved, and revoked. They can also be deleted, but it depends on the use case and whether or not it is anchored on a blockchain. Let's take the following example:

Imagine that in your government, for example, the Secretary of Urban Development has their own decentralized identifier (DID), and the Secretary who authorizes construction permits also has their own DID as the controller of the Secretary's office (it is convenient to do it this way so that when the administration changes, you only need to update the controllers and continue the operation).

This Secretary receives a request from a citizen for a home extension procedure. Upon seeing the complete requirements, they can use their DID to sign the permit authorization and issue a resulting document whose issuing DID is the Secretary's office, whose digital signature is the Secretary's, and whose recipient DID is the citizen's.


The citizen would receive their new document or verifiable credential in their wallet, under the section for their government. Now that they have it, they can use it whenever they need to. The association properties of this credential to a wallet, and the fact that it is working on blockchain infrastructure make the document easily verifiable through some cryptographic verification factor and without the need for re-issuance or a notary.


It is not worth delving into the technical details, but the value is that, for the first time, the citizen becomes a kind of "mobile database," facilitating interoperability between different areas of government, as well as having "one-time" documents in "one place." The level of convenience and efficiency is unprecedented. Neither is the level of privacy and security provided by the infrastructure.


With verifiable credentials or documents, thinking about decentralized digital identity from the perspective of the public sector, the great promise of interoperating all areas of a public administration, even between different levels of government and why not, between different nations and sectors, sounds quite achievable.


The fact that identity is owned by the citizen and not the issuing organization would allow for a complementary data governance model, placing the citizen at the center of the operation and services of both the government and other sectors.

Benefits

While we have already mentioned some benefits, there are 3 main ones that encompass them all and are worth closing this post with. This is how verifiable credentials will change the game of exchanging information.

  1. Cross-border trust. With a standardized verifiable credential model, the format and structure of the information are unified, which makes the formation of an ecosystem for validating information less costly.

  2. Self-sovereignty, privacy, and usability. People have control over which data they share and when, thanks to their digital wallets. They can also prove that the information they share belongs to them and is valid.

  3. Easier and faster verification. The verifiable credentials model allows for trust in data without the need for the verifier to trust the issuer, while also making it easy to identify the owner (controllers) of the information.


 

Author

Lucas Jolias, Director de OS City


Jesús Cepeda, CEO at OS City



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