March 11, 2019
The Government of British Columbia recently announced the launch of OrgBook BC. OrgBook BC is a searchable directory of public, verifiable data issued by government authorities about businesses in British Columbia. OrgBook BC is an exemplar service of the Verifiable Organizations Network (VON) which envisions a new way to issue, store, and share authentic and authoritative data about organizations globally. The Sovrin Network provides OrgBook BC with a global reach for its credentials issuance and verification services.
We asked John Jordan, Executive Director of Emerging Digital Initiatives from the Government of British Columbia, to tell us more:
Sovrin: Please tell us a little bit about OrgBook BC and the Verifiable Organizations Network? Where did this idea come from? Why was it created? What problem does it aim to solve?
John: The Government of British Columbia’s move towards a fully digital economy is missing a key piece: a solid digital foundation of trust. We need confidence that the people and businesses we are interacting with are who they say they are.
Relationships are fundamental to how we live, work, and play together in society. The current suite of technologies that power the internet have provided a great deal of opportunity; however, they were never designed to solve the problem of establishing trustworthy peer-to-peer relationships. We believe the open technology behind the Sovrin Network, Hyperledger Indy, provides an opportunity to explore how to use digital networks to establish trust at a distance.
The Verifiable Organizations Network (VON) envisions a globally available suite of services enabling new ways for trusted and enduring digital relationships to form. Governments, organizations, and individuals will benefit from the ability to issue, hold, and verify the authentic and authoritative data needed to create and maintain the trusted digital relationships they need to grow and prosper. The issuance of this data will be based on the emerging W3C Verifiable Credentials standard. VON is an open community effort to establish this better way to find, issue, and store this trustworthy data about organizations.
However, it will take some time to reach this broad vision. Not all of the components we need to realize this vision are yet available. In particular, we don’t yet have the software businesses needed to hold and share these new Verifiable Credentials, and government services don’t have the software to issue and verify them. We need a way to provide near-term value and begin the bootstrapping process to realize this global scale vision.
This is where OrgBook BC comes in. Grounded in the foundational data of the BC Registry, OrgBook BC is a searchable public directory of trustworthy business data. Currently, anyone can search for and find registration information for the more than 525,000 legal entities operating in the Province of British Columbia. OrgBook BC provides a destination for our services for business to issue their permits and licences, all linked to the legal entity they are empowering.
These are the numerous government services who issue specific credentials to organizations. Permits to take water, liquor licences, business licences, building permits are among the many, many examples. We are working to enable these issuers to issue more credentials to OrgBook BC with simple to deploy open source software components and open APIs. The greater the number of issuers, the greater the value of OrgBook BC.
As the vision behind Sovrin and Hyperledger Indy matures, we believe a new software stack will emerge. This software “trust stack” will provide a way for global-scale trusted and enduring digital relationships to be formed. These trustworthy digital relationships will give people, organizations, and institutions a way to discover and build relationships with each other, over the internet, as they have always done in their own local communities. We think that is what is holding up the next economic leap forward.
Sovrin: What specifically does distributed ledger technology (DLT) enable VON to do?
John: This is a really important question. The Sovrin Network, powered by Hyperledger Indy, provides important capabilities. These capabilities provide globally scalable peer-to-peer interactions that are both highly secure and privacy respecting. This is a significant factor in our motivation to work with and understand this technology. If this new design can deliver on these privacy enhancing data exchange capabilities, we believe there is a real opportunity to help our businesses and citizens use the internet for trusted and high value interactions.
Most DLT implementations derive their design from the Bitcoin Blockchain. The design of that first type of blockchain implementation focuses on a kind of “reconciliation model” for currency-based transactions. Therefore, the design necessarily includes writing data to the ledger about the specific transactions that the users of the system undertake in order to create a common understanding of the state of the system. For example, what transactions have occurred and what are the associated balances of accounts implicated in those transactions.
The design of this type of DLT can displace typical trust intermediaries or centralized authorities who perform this reconciliation function on behalf of all the members of a network. Members of these networks typically use software called a “wallet” to gain access to the network and conduct a transaction with another member of the network. The transaction between the two members is conducted via the DLT. Without the DLT in this design, there is no way for the members to interact with each other. Further, as a result of the DLT being a party to all the transactions between members of the network, it is quite possible to discover who the members are even if the nature of their interactions may be private. We didn’t feel this was an appropriate technical approach for our purposes which, we hope, will eventually include empowering our citizens with globally recognized digital credentials which could include personal information.
This is not the design of the Hyperledger Indy DLT.
Hyperledger Indy is designed to support a new trust architecture for the internet. With Indy, the goal is to enable direct and secure peer-to-peer communication. Peers are typically individuals, services, and potentially devices. Peer-to-peer communication is not established via an intermediary nor is it conducted via the DLT.
To accomplish this, Indy can be understood as having two high-level components. The first component is the software which powers the DLT network. The second is typically called agent software which is used by peers wishing to create and manage their digital relationships via a set of sophisticated protocols. These protocols are generally rooted in a class of technology called public key infrastructure.
A unique quality Indy offers is the ability for issuers of Verifiable Credentials to make their public key(s) globally discoverable and available via the DLT. The Sovrin Network leverages this technical capability of Indy’s DLT and augments this with a governance structure. The governance and technology work together to create a trustworthy publicly readable network which contains the cryptographic elements needed for peers to exchange the Verifiable Credentials needed to establish trusted and enduring relationships.
Sovrin: How does VON work with the Sovrin Network?
John: The vision of VON is that any government, private sector, not-for-profit, or other type of organization can benefit from the ability to establish trusted relationships through the use of Verifiable Credentials over the internet. In order to help this vision come to fruition we have created two new software components to complement the existing ones in Hyperledger Indy.
One component is a type of agent that can be easily configured to connect to existing enterprise services. Under the label of Indy Catalyst Agent, this component enables services to quickly become Verifiable Credential issuer and verifier enabled services. Indy Catalyst Agent has everything that an enterprise service needs to interact with the Sovrin Network and with other Indy-based agents.
The second component, being further developed under the label of Indy Catalyst Credential Registry, is what powers OrgBook BC. In fact, OrgBook BC uses both Indy Catalyst Agent (configured as a holder/prover) and Indy Catalyst Credential Registry. This is also a service we think has a broad audience. Of course, legal entity registries can follow the OrgBook model, but there are many other similar examples. Professional accreditation organizations often have a need to make their membership lists public, including law societies, engineers, nurses, teachers, doctors, universities, colleges, and the list goes on. All of these kinds of services can benefit from having a public and trustworthy source of truth on the internet. And there are private use cases such as using an Indy Catalyst Credential Registry to be an “Evidence Locker” to store “digital evidence tags”.
We’re very proud of being one of the first governments to have a DID on the Sovrin Ledger as well as deploy one of the first production use cases of Hyperledger Indy using the Sovrin Network.
Sovrin: Describe the open source community as it relates to your work?
John: Open source software development is a cornerstone of the Government of British Columbia’s transition to a digitally native government. Open source software allows us to benefit from the globally leading efforts such as Hyperledger Indy and to demonstrate our commitment to public good by sharing code.
The Sovrin/Hyperledger Indy community has been a huge help in building our understanding of the verifiable credentials model and in the use of Hyperledger Indy. We began by joining the weekly Hyperledger Indy working group calls. I think it was on our second call that we started asking questions and sometimes feeling like we were selfishly taking up community time. Those discussions, combined with our research into self-sovereign identity capabilities soon led us to a vision for what we could create and ultimately, OrgBook BC.
Since then, we’ve done all of our work in the open, and we’ve done better at driving agendas rather than just hijacking them. All of the software we have developed to realize the vision of VON is open source, and we welcome others to learn from our work, take and use it in their jurisdiction, and ideally, contribute with capabilities that we can use.
We were helped immensely by a parallel effort in British Columbia called the BC Dev Exchange—an ‘open by default’ model for delivering digital services. It’s a program that combines modern approaches to digital service design, Agile development, and DevOps-driven deployment with effective procurement mechanisms.
The DevExchange platform enabled us to build the capabilities of VON pretty rapidly. We used two “Code With Us” procurements to bring in experts from outside the project for specific deliverables: enterprise-grade agent storage and DID-Authentication capabilities. We were able to subsequently provide those developments back to the community.
Sovrin: What is the future of VON?
John: We are growing VON in four ways.
OrgBook BC uses the Sovrin Network to allow businesses to share verifiable data online in a trustworthy way like never before. To learn more about VON and OrgBook BC, visit https://vonx.io/ or watch this webinar.« Self-Sovereign Identity Advocates Support the Sovrin Network Sovrin Network Now Ready for Digital Credential Issuers »