IGF 2023 WS #422 Exploring Blockchain's Potential for Responsible Digital ID

Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (02:30 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (04:00 UTC)
WS 3 – Annex Hall 2

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Emerging Technologies
Blockchain, Digital Assets & Web 3-based Ecosystems

Organizer 1: Swati Punia, Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi
Organizer 2: Harry Rolf, 🔒Tech Policy Design Centre, Australian National University
Organizer 3: Ananya Moncourt , 🔒Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi

Speaker 1: Mustafa Mahmoud, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Johanna Weaver, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Susan Morrow, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Kaliya Young, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Rafael Zanatta, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Additional Speakers

Updated information:

In-person Moderator and Organiser 4: Joanne D’Cunha, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Speaker 1: Swati Punia, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Speaker 2: Mustafa Mahmoud, Civil Society, African Group

Speaker 3: Rafael Zanatta, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Speaker 4: Kaliya Young, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 5: Johanna Weaver, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator: Ananya Moncourt, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Rapporteur: Tejaswita Kharel, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Swati Punia, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator

Harry Rolf, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Ananya Moncourt , Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Panel - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Can blockchain embed human-centric values within Digital ID systems? Is regulatory sandbox effective in assessing the potential of blockchain-enabled Digital ID systems and the need for technical standards? What kinds of on-ground realities must be accounted for? What mechanisms can help advance common values despite diverse socio-cultural, and political contexts in the development of socio-technical systems? What kind of collaborations will help regulators and standards setting become more innovative, effective and harmonious? Does it matter who implements, owns or controls the Digital ID system? What kinds of technical or regulatory tools can help address security and governance concerns?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Participants will be able to form an understanding about the role of blockchain in embodying guiding principles of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development: leaving no one behind, integrating human rights, building gender equality and empowerment, in the future of Digital ID. They will be sensitized to the need for embedding values and ethics in the development of technology, in the context of blockchain-enabled Digital ID systems. Through the experiences and expertise of a diverse panel, participants will learn about common ground realities and varying needs of people from the global majority that need to be accommodated in the design of blockchain-enabled Digital ID systems. Participants will realize the need and value of multistakeholder approaches to identifying challenges and designing sustainable solutions. They will also gain insight into what kinds of mechanisms and policy approaches can help frame regulatory tools and technical standards that work across borders.


CCG and TPDC are collaborators on a first-of-its-kind cross-border, interdisciplinary project to review the blockchain ecosystems in India, Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. The multi-phased project spanning over 3.5 years aims to build a multistakeholder community to collectively deepen policy understanding, identify gaps, and deliver evidence-based recommendations. The project aims to meaningfully impact international discussions on emerging blockchain use-cases and relevant technical standards. The project is identifying and studying blockchain applications that enhance social cohesion, build economic resilience and security in the Indo-Pacific. It prioritizes applications that support gender equality, women's empowerment and inclusive solutions that are scalable and replicable across the region. One important area of such an application is Digital ID, playing a foundational role in individuals’ access to a wide spectrum of services offered by governments and private actors. However, Digital ID systems are globally critiqued for their vulnerabilities and potential for exclusionary and discriminatory impact. The panel will discuss real world case studies and share their experiences with Digital ID systems. This will help examine the potential of blockchain to address human rights concerns, build equitable access to empower disadvantaged groups and embed trust and security in the technological design. Besides, utility of concepts such as “Zero ID Proof” that help advance privacy-by-design and security-by-design will also be discussed along with careful considerations of the challenges, opportunities and knock-on effects of integrating emerging technologies like blockchain with Digital ID systems for the global majority. Finally, the session will attempt to identify ethical design principles and gaps in the current implementation of blockchain-enabled Digital ID systems, and consolidate policy strategies for embedding human-centric values that facilitates creation of inclusive and responsible Digital ID systems. This session builds on a series of conversations held during phase I and II of the project and our workshop at RightsCon 2023.

Expected Outcomes

This session enables the blockchain project to engage with a diverse non-technical audience in a critical conversation about the use of emerging technologies like blockchain to solve human rights concerns, build responsible socio-technical systems and facilitate SDGs. This will strengthen our blockchain project by testing its current approach and outcomes. A key objective of the project is to develop a multistakeholder non-financial blockchain community and raise awareness and engagement of stakeholders in the standard-setting processes for blockchain. Participants will be able to contribute and collaborate with this community through future stakeholder convenings organized for designing recommendations and identifying gaps for phase-III of our project. CCG is an accredited stakeholder at the ISO and its mirror committee at the national level in India, and insights from this session will enable representation of a multistakeholder perspective on technical standards for emerging technologies at these forums.

Hybrid Format: The session has four parts: introductory segment lays down the context and gathers initial-remarks on pre-decided questions, followed by two segments that deep dive into challenges and benefits, and engage with the policy questions outlined. The last segment interacts with participants and consolidates inputs through live questions and an interactive whiteboard (Miro) - used throughout the session to collect inputs on predetermined and emerging streams of questions. While the rapporteur will maintain the whiteboard to feed in inputs from the ongoing session, all participants would be given access to actively engage with it during the session as well as an hour beyond the set schedule to share their thoughts. Besides this, each segment will make use of interactive live polling (SlidesWith). This is particularly useful to understand the pulse of the room and provides an excellent opportunity to navigate the discussion towards issues that get highlighted during this exercise.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Blockchain is often being used to incorporate trust and integrity in digital solutions, however it is important to move away from techno-solutionism. We ought to steer away from building blockchain solutions that rely solely on its intrinsic value. Use of technology should be guided by a clear understanding of why, where and how this technology will help solve societal issues.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Create toolkits and ex-ante assessment frameworks to build responsible blockchain based digital identity systems. It is imperative to have an evaluation criteria built on the bedrock of human rights respecting principles to assess the need and impact of building blockchain based solutions. Leverage existing platforms/ fora to convene multi stakeholder discussions across borders and disciplines to build inclusive technology solutions.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


Joanne D’Cunha (Centre for Communication Governance), the moderator, explained that the workshop sought to understand the implications of incorporating technologies like blockchain into digital identity systems. The session explored whether blockchain could help address existing concerns and how it should be used to advance responsible digital identity systems. The first part of the workshop covered existing uses and challenges with digital identity and discussed the purpose and possible benefits of adopting blockchain in digital identity systems. 

Harry Rolf (Tech Policy Design Centre) began by highlighting the importance of ensuring trust in institutions administrating digital identity systems. He explained that the concerns with emerging technology like blockchain are not solely related to the use of the technology. He pointed to broader concerns associated with the  lack of trust in the administrator of the technology that should be given proper consideration. He also stated the approach to considering how blockchain could be used for digital identity, should be one that is both cautious and curious. 

Following this conversation, Nathan Paschoalini (Data Privacy Brasil) discussed the challenges with digital identity systems in Brazil highlighting risks such as privacy, data breach, exclusion, etc. He explained that although the Brazilian government is experimenting with using blockchain for the digital identity systems to address some of the existing challenges, the technology in itself has limited function in fixing issues and preventing harms that stem from deep-structural inequalities in societies.

Diving deeper into the concerns with the use of digital identity systems, Mustafa Mahmoud (Namati, Citizenship Program) highlighted the realities of the implementation of digital identity systems in Kenya. He pointed to  the issue of digital identity systems creating multiple identities and that these systems do not interact with each other. While the use of digital identity in itself is not an issue, the manner of implementation and the lack of access to such systems could create systemic exclusion.

Kaliya Young (Self-Sovereign Identity Expert) provided a different perspective to the discussion by highlighting that digital identity systems are not limited to only providing legal identity. She explained that across various forms of digital identities, it is important to ensure that users have agency over their digital identities. She discussed that it is important to empower users with such autonomy and that a way to do this could be to share their digital identities digitally through a decentralised system where there is no sole authority. 

Swati Punia (Centre for Communication Governance) supplemented Kaliya’s points and highlighted that incorporation of blockchain in digital identity systems could help address certain gaps. She explained that while trust and integrity could be promoted through use of tech like blockchain - it is often how, where and when the tech is deployed which will ensure whether the tech guarantees trust and integrity. 

In the second part of the workshop, we examined more closely the use of blockchain with digital identity and how we can move towards having responsible digital identity systems. In expressing his thoughts about the societal implications of combining the technologies, Mustafa supported Swati’s point on examining the purpose of use of any technology.  He explained that  blockchain based digital identities could be used to aid in decentralisation of information across multiple institutional departments and to support authentication of only necessary identity information. However, he emphasised the need to consider how the technology will be inclusive, accessible and the potential use cases, as incorporation of technology such as blockchain alone would not be an adequate solution to existing societal challenges.

Swati added that the development and deployment of blockchain technology in digital identity systems ought to be guided by clear principles and values such as security, user-control, privacy, equitable access, inclusion and sustainability. She explained that these factors could guide the creation of toolkits or ex-ante assessment frameworks to build responsible blockchain based digital identity systems. She also highlighted the need for an evaluation criteria built on the bedrock of human rights respecting principles.

In discussing how some of the principles mentioned above could be embedded into blockchain based digital identity systems, Kaliya expressed the need for collaboration amongst all kinds of stakeholders. She highlighted the importance of leveraging existing platforms / fora to convene multi-stakeholder discussions across borders and disciplines to build inclusive technological solutions. Such discussions between key stakeholders from diverse social contexts is key for designing inclusive and sustainable solutions.  

Nathan further added to the discussion, the need for checks and balances in the use of digital identity systems. He highlighted that to establish safeguards, it is crucial that  digital identity systems are human centred and rights-based in order to  ensure inclusion, data protection, privacy, etc. He further explained that the use of open standards and free and open source software should be encouraged to develop transparent and trustworthy blockchain-based digital identity solutions.

Finally, Harry highlighted the importance of particularly ensuring tech developers are included in discussions of embedding principles, values and standards into the technology. He explained that it is crucial for all forms of stakeholders to be involved in the process of determining technological standards and that the creation of inclusive tech standards will help ensure responsible development and deployment of technology. 

The session included interactive live polling with questions that aimed to capture audience understanding of the use of digital identity, to which most participants indicated general awareness. A few questions assessed audience perception on the benefits of blockchain-enabled digital identity systems and their potential to achieve positive outcomes and also embed human-centric values. This question received mixed responses from the audience. Further, in the Q&A session, we received questions on balancing the use of emerging technologies with digital literacy concerns, how to assess the need for blockchain in specific use cases etc. One specific question was on how blockchain could be used to make parallel digital identity systems work. The panellists answered that blockchain could be useful for legal digital identity; especially when there are parallel government departments with interconnected data. Through the decentralised ledger, the multiple databases of information could interact seamlessly.