Swiss-based startup Procivis and the canton of Schaffhausen have launched a blockchain-based e-identity project. In the future, the goal is to add more services; even a blockchain-based e-voting platform is in development.

The canton of Schaffhausen has implemented a blockchain-based e-identity and e-government platform, together with Swiss startup Procivis.

The project is called eID+. The partnership introduced the pilot in December 2017. Citizens could register with Schaffhausen’s public office and then access public services directly via a mobile app. The app stores identity documents on a blockchain, which citizens can use as official identify documentation.

With eID+, the canton of Schaffhausen aims at speeding up government services and improve operational efficiency.

“Our society is constantly developing,” says Walter Vogelsanger, a Schaffhausen government representative. “We have to test and try new technologies. The canton Schaffhausen has a location advantage because Switzerland is well positioned in the blockchain space.”

eID+ offers a wide variety of functionalities

Currently, the app enables users to authenticate themselves and interact with third parties without the process of setting up a new account with every service provider. An e-signature feature allows users to sign documents directly with their digital signature.

Users can directly access official government documents and store them on the blockchain. The app then proofs the authenticity of government documents through blockchain-based timestamping.

Procivis founder Daniel Gasteiger says, “Blockchain can verify every single attribute. I can, for example, verify that I have a driving license and the date of my birthday.”

In future, Procivis will add more functionalities, such as an e-licensing tool that allows users to store and receive licenses and permits digitally, direct access to e-health platforms, simplified KYC processes and an e-company platform that streamlines business registration processes.

The app was well received by the public, although there is skepticism as well. “Once the data is sent to the blockchain, we cannot delete it anymore,” explains Gasteiger. That causes some concern among users.

“Another issue is that if a user loses his private key, he or she loses access to all data. Thus, we have to make sure the app and the management of the private key are as simple as possible so that a technologically unsophisticated person can use the app without any concerns,” adds Gasteiger.

Blockchain-based e-Voting in development

Procivis is also developing a prototype for blockchain-based e-Voting together with the University of Zurich. The planned platform aims to cover the entire voting process electronically. In addition to the act of voting, the solution will also include preceding steps, such as providing information to voters, and subsequent steps, such as vote counting.

The solution will use the Ethereum blockchain. After successful development, it will be made publicly available as open source software.

Procivis founder and CEO Daniel Gasteiger said: „E-voting is a core element of electronic governance. But despite Switzerland’s reputation as a flagship-democracy, development in this area is faltering.”

Dr. Thomas Bocek, who is responsible for the project on University’s side, adds, “E-voting based on blockchain technology increases transparency and, at the same time, can be technically very challenging.”

The idea of blockchain-based digital identity is not new. The Sovrin Foundation, for example, is an open source project creating a global public network for self-sovereign identity. The UN World Food Programme has also picked up the concept and has created a digital identity system that provides refugees in refugee camps with a digital ID enabling them to buy food without using cash.

But on a government level, blockchain projects remain a rarity. Schaffhausen and Procivis are frontrunners, and their work will provide valuable lessons for future initiatives.

*The full interview can be viewed here: SRF – Procivis eID+ in Schaffhausen

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