Hi Chris

whilst I like your last sentence defining the essence of self-sovereignty, I am afraid that the term "principle authority" is simply not correct for all VCs in the world. You say "the person where all delegation begins. There is no higher level — as a principal authority I can delegate to others, and revoke those delegations."

If you tried to delegate your driving license VC to anyone else then I am afraid the police simply would not accept that your delegate was entitled to drive any car that you could. The ultimate authority is surely the VC issuer, not the VC holder. In SSI we are giving control to the holder. But we are not giving principle authority to the holder to delegate any of their VCs as they wish.

Kind regards


On 23/03/2021 20:27, Christopher Allen wrote:
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 equation:

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 (https://wyoleg.gov/Legislation/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