April 2019

Digital Identity: Has Freedom a Future?

Author: Tim Reiniger, LIGHTest Advisory Board Member


Defining ‘freedom’ as the individual’s ability to exercise control over his or her own life and actions whether in physical or digital form, the question must be asked with respect to digital identity – what are the necessary policy and technology elements to ensure the possibility of human freedom? Does freedom have a future with the deployment of digital identity?

The answer is ‘yes’… because of Europe and, specifically, because of the eIDAS, GDPR, and LIGHTest. All of these recognize that self-controlled digital identity has existential,experiential, and emergentqualities.

First, eIDAS supports a treatment of digital identity as being multi-dimensional., In other words, humans actually exist and live in more than one dimension. To be a free individual is to be in control of one’s life, not being controlled from without. Identity as an expression of ways of being reflects the individual’s ability to maintain independence while, simultaneously, engaging in community; of the dimension of being oneself while, at the same time, the dimension of being related to others.

Second, the GDPR supports the treatment of digital identity as being emergent within a community system of personal data Controllers and Processors. By giving the individual a measure of control over the collection and sharing of personal data, GDPR underscores that human identity is holistic and dynamic, not just a simple sum of datapoints, identifiers, or attributes. 

Third, the LIGHTest-enabled trust infrastructure reflects a view of digital identity as being experiential. Trust in individuals logically is based on acts, not the person’s beliefs or mere status or authority within a particular group.  Accordingly, LIGHTest broadly supports trust assessments in contexts that are decentralized, dynamic, and diverse. 

So, freedom does have a future with digital identity…if, eIDAS and GDPR policies are enforced and LIGHTest is broadly implemented both within and outside Europe. An important illustration of this point is the pending application of LIGHTest by the UNHCR to enable refugees to self-control their digital identities and related data. This will be discussed in a subsequent blog entry.