Microsoft and Accenture work to create digital identity as ‘a basic human right’

A young boy at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees are living. Picture: UN/Sahem Rababah

Accenture and Microsoft are collaborating to build a digital ID network using blockchain technology, as part of a United Nations-supported project to provide legal identification to 1.1 billion people worldwide with no official documents.

The companies unveiled a prototype of the network today at the UN headquarters in New York during the second summit of ID2020, a public-private consortium promoting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of providing legal identity for everyone on the planet. The project aims to help individuals such as refugees prove who they are in order to gain access to basic services such as education and healthcare.

“Without an identity you can’t access education, financial services, healthcare, you name it. You are disenfranchised and marginalized from society,” said David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s financial services practice. “Having a digital identity is a basic human right.”

Blockchain, first developed as a public ledger of all transactions in the digital currency bitcoin, is increasingly being used to securely track data in other fields. The new platform will connect existing record-keeping systems of commercial and public entities, allowing users to access to their personal information wherever they are. For example, refugees who have fled their country leaving behind birth or education paper certificates would still be able to provide proof of those credentials through the system.

One of the main advantages of blockchain is that it allows systems of different organisations to communicate with each other, said Yorke Rhodes, global business strategist at Microsoft. The prototype was built on top of an existing Accenture platform, which powers the biometric identity management system used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Accenture and Microsoft, which worked on the prototype with managed service provider Avanade, are inviting other companies to join their project. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Cisco Systems are among the organisations involved in ID2020.

“What ID2020 is truly focused on is bringing together an alliance of stakeholders to ensure the technology that is being developed is responsive to the needs of individuals,” said Dakota Gruener, executive director at ID2020. “Technology is only one piece of this.”