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Re: The "self-sovereign" problem (was: The SSI protocols challenge)

From: Christopher Allen <ChristopherA@lifewithalacrity.com>
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2021 13:27:13 -0700
Message-ID: <CACrqygBj+Eg9UKGfJS+3styxu1bNUo6282gjoB+JAOBF5Ste0w@mail.gmail.com>
To: "Michael Herman (Trusted Digital Web)" <mwherman@parallelspace.net>
Cc: "drummond.reed@evernym.com" <drummond.reed@evernym.com>, sankarshan <sankarshan@dhiway.com>, "W3C Credentials CG (Public List)" <public-credentials@w3.org>, Georgy Ishmaev - TBM <G.Ishmaev@tudelft.nl>
I like this paper on self-sovereignty, by ethics professor Georgy Ishmaev <
G.Ishmaev@tudelft.nl>, which does a better job than I to describe what and
why concepts of "sovereignty" are important in solving the digital identity


Some key quotes:

 the call to reconsider the source of this right aims to reframe the
procedure of an identification not as an obligation or duty of citizens to
be identified derived from the sovereign right of a state, but as a natural
right of an individual to be represented via mediating role of institutions
of identity.
strong ontological interpretation of personal identity understood in
informational terms, where an individual is not just represented by one’s
personal information but effectively constituted by an information about
oneself. From that perspective, the unique dynamic status of personal
identity defines a moral content of informational privacy as a matter of
construction of one’s own informational identity. An individual’s freedom
to mould one’s identity, the freedom to build a different and possibly
better self, goes against the artificial ‘mummification’ of identity
represented in records and profiles, which takes the power to construct
one’s identity away from an individual.
There are then compelling reasons to consider the right to be a
‘self-sovereign’ source of power to construe one’s own identity. Not just a
right for the choice of attributes relevant for the presentation of one’s
own identity to others, but also a right not to have one’s identity be
permanently fixated in the externally imposed normative framework. The
foundation of this right can be traced back to Lockean arguments on the
limits of powers and rights in a free society.

There is a lot more in that paper — I highly recommend it.

As to the larger issue of the "SSI problem", I too have been faced with
strong pushback on using the term "self-sovereign" in my advocacy. A recent
insight, from some of my recent work in Wyoming to create a legal
definition of identity in WY Bill 2021-SF0039 (

(xviii)  "Personal digital identity" means the intangible digital
representation of, by and for a natural person, over which he has principal
authority and through which he intentionally communicates or acts;

For a long time in earlier drafts we had the phrase "over which he has
self-sovereignty", but as discussed in this message thread there always has
been pushback on it.

Part of the problem, as some sympathetic academic lawyers pointed out, is
there is insufficient existing law on the term "self-sovereign" to properly
define it. Part of the reason why I chose self-sovereign 5+ years ago is
that I wanted to go beyond "property" and "ownership" toward fundamental
human rights. In the Wyoming team, we tried out a number of other phrases
that sounded good at first (for instance "dominion"), but had to be
excluded because they were property law related.

In the end, we chose a relatively obscure legal term "principal
authority". As I understand it (IANAL), “principal authority” comes from
the area of “law of agency” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_agency),
and is the person where all delegation begins. There is no higher level —
as a principal authority I can delegate to others, and revoke those
delegations. Though the "law of agency" is largely used in commercial law,
it also applies to more than just property, but other things like
healthcare directives, and other forms of agency and delegation. But it
also hasn't been used so strongly there is a body of law that confuses it
with other definitions.

I had hoped to establish a legal definition self-sovereign under Wyoming
Law, but "principal authority" was the closest the law experts we had
available could find that could map to the original.

Despite accepting the pushback on "self-sovereignty", what I really care
about is is described in quote that I still stand by:

"Human dignity demands that individuals be treated with respect no matter
which system they interact with, whether face-to-face or digitally online.
Without that, we become nothing but data in the machine — entries in a
ledger to be managed, problems to be solved, digital serfs. We are not."

To me that is the essence of "self-sovereignty".

-- Christopher Allen
Received on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 20:28:08 UTC

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