The credential highway: how self-sovereign identity unlocks property rights for the bottom billion
Keywords:land, property, digital identity, restitution, post-conflict.
Every person in the world has a right to own, rent, or otherwise occupy property. But, billions of people lack documentary proof of their property rights. Why? Because the pieces of evidence that administrative agencies require to register property — things like a survey plan, a notarized will, or a state-issued identity card — may be inaccessible, or may not represent the reality of rights on the ground. As a result, land administration systems end up excluding billions of people. However, these macro pieces of evidence are far from the only proof of property claims. In fact, the reality of our property rights is evidenced by a multitude of small, everyday events: where we sleep at night, where our mail is delivered, the knowledge and memories of our neighbors, or the fact that we paid to put a new roof on our house or a fence around the yard. Until recently, these everyday events have occurred unrecorded, in the analog world, and beyond the sight of administrative agencies that provide us with property documents. But our lives are becoming increasingly digitized. With the proliferation of smartphones, satellites, and social media platforms, more and more of these small events leave a data trail. Taken together, this data can be used to create a tapestry of new evidence—let’s call it a “tapestry credential”—that property holders could use to obtain documentation of their property rights. This report argues that a digital identity system—specifically, self-sovereign identity (SSI)—is the vehicle for harnessing this wealth of new data in a way that is trustworthy, secure, and privacy-preserving.