Accenture, Microsoft to bring digital IDs to billions

Their prototype blockchain network could provide formal identification for refugees

Accenture and Microsoft have teamed up to work on a digital ID network built on blockchain technology, which aims to provide formal identification for approximately 1.1 billion people who have no official documentation.

An early prototype of the network was unveiled at the UN's ID2020 summit on Monday, a consortium of public and private members promoting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal to provide legal identity for everyone across the world.

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The project is designed to assist those who typically lack formal identification, such as refugees, who need IDs to use national services such as education and healthcare.

By making use of existing records held by commercial and public bodies, data such as fingerprint and iris scans would be incorporated into a blockchain network, a decentralised peer-to-peer ledger that underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. This would allow both services and users to access personal information from any location.

Doing so would allow multiple organisations to jointly validate a person's ID directly, instead of an individual having to send multiple copies to different locations manually. It will also mean that those people who are unable to access their physical documents can still be formally identified.

"People without a documented identity suffer by being excluded from modern society," said David Treat, managing director in Accenture's blockchain division. "Our prototype is personal, private and portable, empowering individuals to access and share appropriate information when convenient and without the worry of using or losing paper documentation."

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The prototype is framed around an existing Accenture network, which underpins the biometric identity management system that is currently deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We believe that identity is one of the most important needs in international development and an area where Microsoft and the private sector are uniquely positioned to contribute," said Yorke Rhodes, global business strategist at Microsoft.

"We are thrilled to work with Accenture and bring Microsoft Azure's global scale, flexibility and security to support ID2020 and make progress on this critical societal need."

Accenture and Microsoft are now welcoming other companies involved in ID2020 to join the project, such as PwC and Cisco.

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