Blockchain can empower stateless refugees

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In "Romeo and Juliet" by Shakespeare, Juliet emphasizes that what matters most is what is something, and not what it's called, when it says, "What's in a name? What we call a rose with any other name would be an equally sweet scent. "[1]

But imagine not having documents that establish your identity and no place to claim your home. This is the condition of marginalized and migrant populations everywhere. What if you're a Syrian nurse who, for 25 years, has provided for her family, and then one day has to flee with her children to a refugee camp? What's your future and that of your family? Does international law help you? And the laws of nation-states?

Based on current estimates, it will be blocked in a field for a decade and 25 years of training will become irrelevant. You will never be able to practice as a nurse. And all this because he left his legal identity and his ability to work in Syria when he escaped.

In the 21st century, people should not rely on the legal identity linked to citizenship. All people should have a digital identity that they own and control, and they can carry anywhere, which opens the door to their identity and all the attributes and credentials of their existence – in other words, allows them to move forward.

This digital identity must not be controlled or issued by any state, which means that it must not be linked to citizenship, although it can be recognized by states if they so desire. In this way, each person can have an identity that provides access to justice. As the needs of globalized and migrant populations grow, the process by which the rule of law can be implemented with new technologies can offer new ways for these populations to achieve freedom, education and justice.

Professor Gillian Hadfield said:

Technology and globalization continue to eradicate and reshape everyday life and the economy. Digital platforms connect billions across the planet in an increasingly complex data and exchange network. How will we be able to find the new rules we need to ensure we continue to innovate and grow, but also to become a more equitable, safer and more inclusive global community?[2]

Where do we start? We take the difficult case: stateless refugees who have no legal identity and, therefore, no recourse to the rule of law.

Creation of identity

With the use of blockchain technology, it is possible to return control of personal information to displaced persons, which may be the first step in developing digital identities for them. An underlying principle of the safe, humanitarian and technological use of technology in relation to identity now becomes possible: anyone with this new form of identity can control access to their personal information.

This use of blockchain technology potentially turns into its head in the way stateless refugees are currently treated without personal identification. Without some form of paper identity they are not recognized as persons and are deprived of human rights. The old legal identity system through a nation-state has excluded refugees from being treated as people. So, how can the use of blockchain technology change the paradigm?

There are 1.1 billion people around the world who could be helped by the availability of some form of digital identity. Would it be possible for this new form of digital identity to open the doors to education and digital goods and otherwise provide the basis for living in the modern world? And can a private international legal framework be used together with blockchain technology to create a digital identity system to empower stateless refugees? Institute, or IBO, a global NGO, developed the idea of ​​a project to pursue these goals and presented it to the World Justice Forum V in July 2017, in a presentation entitled "The Invisibles: Digital Identity for Stateless Refugees. "Then, at the beginning of this year, IBO recorded music with the best musicians living in refugee camps in eight countries, in order to make these refugees owners of digital goods.

The IBO PeaceTones label has collaborated with musicians from Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Haiti, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Indonesia and Pakistan, registering in refugee camps and with NGOs supporting refugees, in the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Senegal. The final result will be an album, now mixed and mastered, which will be titled "World United in Song". Using blockchain technology, the musicians involved in this effort will receive digital identities through which they will get compensation.

Using blockchain technology, digital credentials indicating ownership of digital assets will be placed in the digital portfolios of refugees, who will be entitled to earnings from the sale of their music under private international law. This can serve as a first step towards the creation of digital identity.

The IBO is also looking for ways to give refugees digital credentials that enable them to get education and many sources of income. To do this, IBO is identifying potential technology partners around the world. One of these partners is the Sovrin Foundation. The Sovrin Foundation, launched in September 2016, has released Sovrin Network, the first self-sufficient digital identification system that uses blockchain technology.[3] While the Sovrin Network has only been operational for a short period of time, it shows a significant promise as an innovative method for establishing, controlling and protecting identity.[4]

The basic idea of ​​sovereignty is to use technology to give individuals the power to store their personal information on their devices and to provide information when needed, under conditions they have set themselves.[5] This storage of personal information creates an identification mechanism for individuals that is entirely under their control.[6] The use of blockchain technology and a distributed public ledger help to ensure the security of this information. This should reduce fraud and improve efficiency, especially for refugees in developing nations, where other forms of identity are often unavailable.[7]

Coping with skepticism

Skepticism is natural. Why use the internet for people who might be in developing nations?[8] But access to technology is spreading to oil spills, and in fact it is often more abundant than clean water or food in many developing nations. The Internet can provide a lifeline to the necessary services.

Many might even ask: why blockchain? It is true that blockchain is still in its infancy and advanced implementations still have a long way to go. Inside, blockchain is essentially a digital ledger that can be programmed to record transactions, particularly those of an economic nature.[9] The first notable use of blockchain technology was the development of bitcoins, and since then the technology has been associated with cryptocurrencies.[10]

But why stop with cryptocurrencies? The Sovrin Network was developed to intelligently use blockchain identification technology, with a focus on security and certainty.[11] Blockchain provides this level of accuracy in identification. In particular, Sovrin uses an advanced algorithm and a series of nodes around the world to ensure the accuracy of the information entered in the Sovrin Network register.[12]

Sovrin prevents unauthorized entities from obtaining information from users by correlating the identification of the user from multiple locations. It does this by specifying a different identifier for each position. The signature key, which is the only identifier that the user needs to know, is not provided at any location. This makes sense, considering the eruption of identity violations all over the world.[13]

The Sovrin Network was offered as "free" [global] public platform "available to developers for creating private and secure identity applications.[14] IBM recently announced that it is collaborating with the Sovrin Foundation to help in its effort to "expand the use of … self-sufficient identity". through the Sovrin Network.[15] As one of the 25 "Sovrin Stewards",[16] IBM will host Sovrin Network on its IBM Cloud platform, providing additional hardware, computing power, and security. The partnership aims to accelerate the adoption of Sovrin's identity standards.

Finicity, a financial data aggregation company, has also become Sovrin Steward, contributing to the development of the network infrastructure, together with Datum, a decentralized data storage network and a market. The Stewards must abide by the terms of the foundation's legally binding Sovrin Provisional Trust Framework to ensure their independence from the influence of government and private industry.[17]

Operating on an "authorized blockchain", self-sovereign identity aims to provide a portable digital identity for life that does not depend on any central authority and can never be taken away. To help ensure global interoperability of digital identities, Sovrin Stewards manages Hyperledger Indy from the Linux Foundation, a distributed open source ledger technology administered by the Hyperledger Foundation.

Blockchain is becoming more and more practical and reliable as a means of establishing digital identity. By creating a public identity layer, IBO, working with Sovrin and other formidable partners, is planning a project that can offer stateless refugees the opportunity to rebuild their identity by accessing other technologies. In any case, there will be private contracts involved in securing the relationship between identity owners and companies that provide them with access to new technologies for education, jobs and other opportunities. The identity of self-sovereignty is the first technology on the "Internet justice layer".


Establishing digital identity is only the beginning. The next step is to connect people to education – which is where the On-Demand educational market, or ODEM, comes into play. ODEM is an IBO partner for a pilot project in Bangladesh. The ODEM platform was designed to make higher education in person "more accessible and affordable" around the world.[18] Ultimately, the system will also host online learning.

The program uses a blockchain to create a medium for students, educators, institutions and other stakeholders to share educational information and to interact through smart contracts. Users get access to the ODEM platform via ODEM-T token.[19] By making a small financial deposit (token "stakeout") to list the courses or reserve seats in a classroom, educators and students can confirm their commitments to provide or attend certain course offers.[20] By using tokens in this way, the parties act as their own administrators, thereby reducing commissions and speeding up the enrollment process.[21]

As a currency behind the system's intelligent contracts, ODEM-T will also be used to pay students' tuition fees, educator salaries, institutional costs, educational materials,[22] and, if an educator chooses to license his / her curriculum for use by other educators, royalties.[23] In addition, third parties wishing to contribute to student education costs may use tokens to sponsor a particular individual or offer a particular type of scholarship.[24]

But the main virtue of ODEM is not that it makes it easier to register and pay for classes; is that it helps students individually customize their educational program. The ODEM program selection generator considers the students' preferences regarding price, location, educator and date of the desired classes and provides a list of appropriate course options.[25]

Using artificial intelligence, ODEM can determine if a particular student meets the admission requirements in the class and identify equally qualified stakeholder groups.[26] This means that if students have the necessary qualifications and the means to travel to the places where the lessons are offered, they can combine courses from various institutions taught by educators of their choice to create a unique and individualized educational experience.

ODEM also provides a secure and reliable source for recording and storing digital records of completed courses (ODEM-C).[27] The records are accessible to the student and can be made available to third parties such as other educational institutions or employers.[28] Even educational registers not originally registered on the blockchain can be verified through ODEM through a process of acquiring "consent" from "established institutions" that the courses have been completed as claimed.[29]


This article provides a glimpse of the possibilities that technology offers to establish an identity that can link stateless persons to education and income. The next step is to build on this cooperative spirit to create voluntary global networks and to widen access to justice for all, including the "invisible" stateless persons who have long been ignored. Leaders and policymakers must join forces to create new Internet rules that bring everyone to the sheepfold and give everyone access to justice.

Amy J. Schmitz is a professor at the School of Law at the University of Missouri. Jeffrey M. Aresty is the founder and president of Institute and former president of the American Association of International Law & # 39; s Information Services, Technology and Data Protection Committee.

"Perspectives" is a normal feature written by guest authors on access to problems of justice. To insert article ideas, e-mail [email protected].

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of organizations, their clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be considered as legal advice.

[1] "A rose with any other name would smell just as sweet" on .

[2] Prof. Gillian Hadfield, Richard L. and Antoinette Schamoi Kirtland Professor of Law and Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California, at the presentation of the book "Rules for a Flat World" by Prof. Hadfield at the World Justice Forum V, July 13, 2017 .

[3] Globe Newswire, Sovrin Foundation publishes the world's first public record for Self-Sovereign Identity, Sovrin (September 14, 2017), Sovrin-Foundation-Releases-World-s-First-Public-Distributed-Ledger-to-self-Sovereign-Identity.html.

[4] Globe Newswire, note 2.

[5] A delicate introduction to Self-Sovereign Identity, Bits on Blocks (17 May 2017),

[6] The Sovrin Foundation, Sovrin Foundation launches the first self-Sovereign Dedicated identity network, Cision (September 29, 2016), sovereign-identity-network-300336702.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Dr. Garrick Hileman and Michael Rauchs, Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study 20 (2017), University of Cambridge, 27/09/2017-CCAF-globalbchain.pdf.

[9] What is Blockchain technology? A step-by-step guide for beginners, Blockgeeks,

[10] Id.

[11] The Sovrin Foundation, supra note 6.

[12] Phil Windley, How Sovrin Works, Technometria (October 3, 2016),

[13] Roger Aitkin, IBM Blockchain joins Sovrin's "decentralized" digital identity network to generate fraud, Forbes, April 5, 2018, joins- sovrins-decentralized-digital-identity-network-to-stem-fraud / # b23a17615ed3.

[14] Id.

[15] William Suberg, IBM Partnership with Sovrin Foundation aims to disseminate "Self-Sovereign Identity", Cointelegraph, 6 April 2018, – self-sovereign identity.

[16] Press release, Finicity, Finicity joins the Sovrin Foundation as Founding Steward, April 11, 2018,

[17] Aitken, note 16.

[18] Staking & Token Architecture Program V1.2 to 1, ODEM, May, 2018,

[19] Id. At 7.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. At 15.

[23] Id. At 16.

[24] Id. At 18.

[25] Id. At 11.

[26] Id.

[27] Id. At 8.

[28] Id. To 14.

[29] Id. At 13.

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