Can Verifiable Credentials Be The Key To Safely Reopening The Economy?

Jonathan Weiss Indianapolis — Circa February 2021: COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

Covid-19 Brings Together A Community

Kaliya Young, Ecosystems Director of CCI, remembers when the organization came together early spring of last year. She notes the technology had been in development for over five years, much of which had centered around a conference she led for 15 years called Internet Identity Workshop (IIW).

A System of Truth: Defining the Verifiable Credential

At its core, Lucy Yang explained the notion of improving paper based systems through credentials. A vaccination record is a paper document. Because it is the only record that exists, you safeguard it as proof you have received a vaccine. Your test results, on the other hand, can be received electronically like a PDF version from email. There may also be other versions you can retrieve that are less secure like a URL version that you can click to open, or from a fax machine that may be exposed to prying eyes. In many cases, these results can be retrieved via phone but may not necessarily provide the tangible proof the patient requires. Often, there are cases where paper and electronic versions can be fabricated, thus questioning the authenticity of the documents. These are the use cases where Verifiable Credentials can present the more viable solution.

Vaccine Credential Trust Triangle, Linux Foundation Public Health

Ethical Implementation of Vaccine Credentials

With a wider concern of test results and vaccine confirmation being used to determine the right of passage, there is a real concern of stigmatization, discrimination, and wider inequity as countries look at immunity passports to ease reopening. This has created enough public discourse to mandate ethical implementation through policies. Kalia Young poses a reminder that regulations around health status and travel have been in place for over 90 years.

Scaling Efficacy Through Interoperability

Yang emphasizes the importance of creating tools for both issuers and verifiers — different organizations with different systems with a common layer. This means interoperability is key. She explains:

Preserving Data Privacy for Citizens

What is the gold standard? How will Verifiable Credentials be leveraged to maximize freedom to citizens? Brian Behlendorf explains:

There is a clear case to be made for opening the economy safely while easing travel.

Recently, LFPH issued the open letter urging the U.S. federal government to lead in the issuance of “W3C-defined Verifiable Credentials, and to lead in the coordination of a trust framework to ensure interoperability within the U.S.” Perhaps the time is ripe for Verifiable Credentials to finally be explored as a solution that will minimize risk of disruption to existing systems, while moving at the speed of the Pandemic. As this technology evolves, it presents an opportunity especially in an environment damaged by the misuse and selling of data. The promise of Verifiable Credentials will demonstrate a measure of trust that for the first time, truly allows all citizens the freedom to move freely to school, to work, to public places, and across borders while alleviating concerns of inequity, access and surveillance.

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