Microsoft, Accenture Partner on Blockchain ID Technology

Microsoft and Accenture on Monday unveiled a prototype of a new technology that lets individuals use biometrics to create digital identities based on the blockchain Ethereum protocol.

The prototype, demonstrated during the second ID2020 Summit at the United Nations, showed how an individual can create a digital identity on a blockchain tied to a biometric interface such as fingerprint or facial recognition.

The demo was based on a recent effort by Accenture, which tapped Microsoft and its joint venture Avanade, to provide a biometric identity system for the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), which has already enrolled more than 1.3 million refugees throughout the world from more than 75 countries, and hopes to support more than 7 million by 2020.

David Treat, director of Accenture's blockchain practice, showed attendees of the ID2020 Summit how an undocumented refugee could create his identity and update it throughout his life with information relating to his birth, finances, health, education, career and any other data needed to authenticate a transaction. The user enrolls his credentials using Accenture's Unique Identity Service Platform, which leverages Microsoft's Azure Blockchain as a Service, to provide and share identity attributes based on permissions defined by the user.

The Ethereum blockchain is suited for giving individuals control over their personal data because it's based on a "permissioned," distributed peer-to-peer architecture. As an example of the benefits of a partnership between the ID2020 working group and the larger the IT community, Accenture and Microsoft recently showcased the potential of blockchain to give a digital fingerprint to the 1.2 billion estimated people throughout the world who lack any form of identification.

The goal is to find a global identity solution by 2020 that could be implemented by 2030, as defined in 2015 by the U.N.'s Sustainability Development Goals.

"This is going be a long haul. It's not something we are going to solve overnight," said Dakota Gruener, ID2020's executive director. The first ID2020 Summit gathered last year at the U.N., and intends to continue working on its mission in the near future, Gruener said.

Treat said the technology is designed to connect with existing identity systems and is based on the recently announced Decentralized Identity Foundation, a consortium led by Accenture, Microsoft, RSA and a number of blockchain startups aiming to create "an open source decentralized identity ecosystem for people, organizations, apps and devices."

Accenture's biometric registration capability has been in the field for three years. "What we did was make sure that it's scalable and runs well on our cloud, and then add this consumer-owned identity piece," said Yorke Rhodes, Microsoft's global strategist for blockchain. Over time, Rhodes says blockchain can give users control over how their identities are used by Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as in Active Directory.

"If you look at a lot of the problems associated with identity, there are hacks associated with honeypots," Rhodes said. "So, the ideal world is you can get away from that by not actually pulling together all this data into these large databases."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.