On Guardianship in Self-Sovereign Identity

November 20, 2019

Announcing a new whitepaper from the Guardianship Task Force of the Sovrin Foundation and the launch of the Sovrin Guardianship Working Group

As a new model for internet-scale digital identity, self-sovereign identity (SSI) moves beyond centralized “identity providers” by creating an infrastructure enabling anyone to issue, hold, and verify digital credentials signed with cryptographic private keys. As powerful as this is, it limits the direct use of SSI to individuals who have digital access and legal capacity. For SSI to work for everyone, individuals who do not have digital access, or the appropriate capacity for access, will need another person or organization to serve as their digital guardian.

In a collaborative effort over the past year, the Sovrin Foundation Guardianship Task Force explored why guardianship is essential for SSI to be inclusive. In a newly released whitepaper, this open and public volunteer body of the Sovrin Governance Framework Working Group examines why digital guardianship is a core principle for the Sovrin Network and other SSI architectures, how it fits in with both legal and technical architectures, how it works from inception to termination, and what risks it entails.

This paper is intended for policy and decision-makers, designers, lawyers, software developers, identity professionals, and others to learn how guardianship is handled in SSI. The paper explains the fundamental concept of guardianship, introduces key terms, and explores this type of relationship in the context of digital identity.

As stated in section 3.2 of the Master Document of the Sovrin Governance Framework, the following are overall policies for Guardianship. A Guardian should:

The Guardianship Task Force found it important to note the contextual nature of guardianship, looking at the life cycle and design of SSI Guardianship and now it reflects the complexities of the human condition. For example, a person experiences many life-stages (e.g., childhood) and conditions (e.g., dementia) where law and social norms dictate we cannot be self-sovereign, or a refugee without an internet connection cannot delegate something they do not have.

It is important to note that with the added flexibility and other societal benefits of SSI technology, there are also added risks associated with guardianship. Because it means transferring partial or complete control of the dependent’s wallet to the guardian, these risks include theft, impersonation, and the commingling of identity data. Ignoring these possibilities when implementing a guardianship solution may jeopardize the added benefits SSI affords, resulting in serious adverse effects for dependents.

With the launch of this white paper, the Sovrin Foundation is also pleased to announce the launch of the new Guardianship Working Group. This new Working Group will focus on the specific challenges of implementing digital guardianship in SSI ecosystems, including the technical underpinnings (guardianship and delegation credentials), legal foundations (guardianship contracts), and business drivers (business models for guardianship). This all-volunteer Working Group is open to anyone with a genuine interest in and willingness to contribute to digital guardianship. For more information, please see the Sovrin Foundation Guardianship page.

Download the report.


Learn more about the Sovrin Governance Framework here or contact the Sovrin Foundation to volunteer.

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