Posted by Sacha Saint-Leger on October 18, 2019
We are sprinting towards a world that we know is not a place where we belong.
Surveilling everyone has become cheaper than figuring out whom to surveil.
The Internet, once seen by many as a tool for emancipation, is being transformed into the most dangerous facilitator for totalitarianism ever seen.
Why should we care? To put it simply, total surveillance vastly diminishes the possibility of effective dissent. And without dissent, there cannot be social progress.
The truth is that our lives right now are known and recorded by people we have no influence over. These records of our private lives, are not owned by us. They are owned by the companies that created them, even if they are entirely and exclusively about us.
Governments, corporations, and anybody with the faintest aspiration to power, has recognised that understanding as much as possible about as many as possible is the lever of influence in the modern world.
Whether it’s news targeting, influencing politics, or nudging purchasing decisions, it comes down to the same thing: shaping human behaviour.
These fundamentally anti-democratic forces are all about shaping our behaviour to their benefit. And if this can be done secretly, all the better.
We believe that the biggest vulnerability that’s being exploited by all of these forces is identity.
In the modern world, we are simply not permitted a sense of ownership without a uniquely and universally trackable identity. This is the root of the problem.
We can never be anonymous, we can never be just a person, we’re always this specific entity. And as this specific entity, we can be nudged, we can be shifted, and we can be shaped.
By giving up ownership of our identity, of our history, we’re allowing others to control our story.
When we have this pervasive creation of records, what we fundamentally have is the disempowerment of the individual, and the empowerment of the institution.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is the following:
What happens when we have institutions that are so strong that there is no alternative?
We don’t need a vivid imagination to answer this. We only need to open our eyes and look at the world around us.
If we let it continue in the same dynamic of an increasingly identified world, we might wake up one day to find we no longer have the power to resist, because we no longer have the power to coordinate and collaborate, because all authority has become centralized.
The only way to ensure our freedom and autonomy is to build systems that allow us to create, move, process, and transact on data, without creating a history that it happened.
Systems that are so simple, the end user doesn’t even realise he or she is using them. Because, let’s face it, most people don’t have either the time or the inclination to understand the implications of the technology they are using.
However bleak things may look right now, there is still hope.
Over the next 10 years, the digital world’s increasing importance to the physical world gives us an opportunity to create systems — from the ground up — that bridge the two.
Systems that operate with a different conception of identity built-in.
Systems that take as axiomatic that proving identity is a problem, and that recording identity is dangerous.
Systems that allow us to prove we have a right of use, instead of requiring us to prove who we are.
If we design these systems well, they will allow us to redefine how we think about identity, put our institutions back in check, and shift the balance of power in favour of the individual.
We believe that the key to achieving this is a scalable, decentralized, privacy preserving identity system running on top of a public blockchain.
Under such a system, you’ll be able to prove things about yourself without revealing any unnecessary information. In other words, you’ll be able to prove your right of access, or right of use, without revealing who you are.
And it will be impossible for governments and corporations to access and share information about you without your consent.
By changing how we think about identity, by putting the power back in your hands, we hope to provide a natural technological check on the ability of institutions to abuse their power, and create a world in which anyone, anywhere, can express his or her beliefs, no matter how eccentric, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
This is the vision we are committed to building and defending.
Berlin, Germany October 5th, 2019