Enterprise Ethereum

Zug Digital ID: Blockchain Case Study for Government Issued Identity

A pilot project testing self-sovereign identities on the Ethereum blockchain. 

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Problem Statement

The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 68% of people will live in urban areas. This mass influx of citizens will place stress on current governmental systems and processes. To ensure cities are well equipped to deal with the myriad of upcoming challenges, an increasing number of cities are making the steps towards becoming “smart” cities.

Zug, aka Crypto Valley, set out to explore blockchain-based digital identities to improve access to digital government services while increasing efficiency, data security, and voting accessibility.

Streamlining Direct Democracy

In most democracies, citizens are called to vote for few elections – presidential, parliamentary or local. The representative they choose takes political decisions on their behalf. This is called an indirect democracy.

The Swiss have a direct democracy, which takes them to the ballot box around four times per year to vote on a myriad of issues relevant to their particular canton, e.g. smoking in restaurants, funding museums, and extending local bus routes. Although this is the most democratic government in modern times, it also creates a cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming process.

“Thanks to blockchain-based digital identities, people are getting back control over their own data.”​ 

– Martin Würmli, Zug Head Municipal Clerk

Enterprise Ethereum Solution

Zug leveraged uPort, a decentralized identity platform to create the world’s first live implementation of a self-sovereign government-issued identity project on the Ethereum blockchain, along with the city of Zug, the Institute for Financial Services Zug (IFZ) of the Lucerne University, along with integrator TI&M for the platform and Luxoft to implement voting. In the summer of 2017, they launched a pilot program to register resident IDs on the public Ethereum blockchain. After the pilot program, Zug officially launched the program in November 2017. 

uPort’s identity model returns ownership of identity to the individual by allowing users to register their own identity on Ethereum, send and request credentials, sign transactions, and securely manage keys and data on its open identity system. 

How it worked

Zug created their own identity on the public Ethereum network that gave them the power to sign and verify data. Access to the Zug city identity was delegated to the city clerk, who used their personal uPort identity equipped with specific admin rights.

User experience
  1. A Zug resident downloaded the uPort ID app from the Apple App Store and created an account. 
  2. The uPort app generated a unique private key representing the user’s identity on their phone, which acted as the user’s identity agent.
  3. The resident had the opportunity to back up their private key, allowing them to recover access to their identity should they lose access to their phone. With this setup, the resident gained complete control of their identity and all its associated data. 
  4. The resident visited Zug’s website to register by scanning a QR code to interact with Zug’s e-governmental platform for the first time. 
  5. The resident entered their date of birth and passport number on Zug’s website. The request was cryptographically signed and sent to the city as a new Zug ID application request. 
  6. The resident was required to visit the City’s Einwohnerkontrolle (citizen registration office) for an in-person verification of their details within 14 days. 
  7. Once confirmed, the city clerk issued them a verifiable credential that contained their Zug ID signed by the city’s identity. Other organizations, public and private, could offer services to use the Zug ID in the user’s uPort app.
  8. Citizens gained access to several services by showing their ZUG ID in the user’s uPort App, in this case, voting on an upcoming festival.

Results Achieved

Secure digital interactions between people and governments

350 registered citizens successfully created a digital ID, verified by uPort. 70 citizens participated in voting on the presence of fireworks at an upcoming festival. Users skipped the cumbersome login process, logged in with their uPort account, voted, and logged off without heading to a polling station. It was possible to verify who voted without reliance upon intermediaries or vote-counting infrastructure. The pilot demonstrated that user-controlled identities support the modernization of e-voting initiatives, which could save the city millions in people and productivity costs.

Next Steps

In the future, citizens of Zug could use digital IDs to gain access to specific services around the city. For example, AirBie is a bike-sharing service that only allows access to their bikes through uPort decentralized identities. Users skip the tedious sign-up process and simply log in to their uPort-enabled Zug ID to gain free access to AirBie cryptobikes for up to 20 hours. At the time of this post, their bikes had been used more than 1,600 times by 90 users.

The uPort decentralized ID is the first, secure step in enabling the creation of many “smart city” services, i.e. access to autonomous buses, luxury car-sharing apps, and checking out books from the library. 

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