Everest brings distributed approach to biometric ID4D
Extending legal identity to the billion people without it by 2030 to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16:9 will require some impressive feats of population registration, and if the theory holds, usher in a new era of opportunity for upwards of a sixth of the world’s people. Doing so may require significant innovation, as there are many challenges. Identity startup Everest is addressing the challenges of the identity for development (ID4D) market with a new platform based on blockchain and biometrics.
One of the central challenges is that most people without ID do not have sufficient income for meaningful interactions with tax authorities, traditional banks, and many other institutions. Institutions lack motivation to issue ID, and individuals lack motivation to obtain or maintain it. This creates the additional problem of some 450 million individuals categorized by the World Bank as “lost identified,” who have had a legal identity at some point in the past, but no longer do because it has lapsed or become unverifiable in some way.
Everest’s founders began working on the problem a couple of years ago, Chief Product Officer Brad Witteman told Biometric Update and the technology platform the company has developed is now collaborating on projects in multiple regions around the world to provide user-controlled, biometrically secured identities to address specific humanitarian challenges.
Organizations use the Everest platform to manage large identity projects, and those partners help users create an EverID, which is derived from a multi-modal biometric enrollment. Flexibility is built into the platform, allowing different biometrics or other factors to be used, alone or in combination, according to the needs of the use case.
“We have the philosophy that we will embrace any form of biometery that allows us to receive a unique value for a user, as soon as it is commercially viable,” Witteman says. “Over time I could see us getting all the way down to a DNA reader, when that becomes commercially available.”
Once an EverID has been created, it spawns an EverWallet, which stores documents and vouchers. The EverID is used by the agency to authenticate the user, and by the user for authorization, such as to redeem a food aid voucher. In each case, a different combination of biometric modalities or other factors, such as a PIN, can be used to apply the appropriate degree of security.
All information collected is encrypted and stored in a digital locker with the Identity Network Foundation. The INF is a Swiss non-profit foundation that operates “a global identity verification network based on the Principles of Identification for Sustainable Development Goals,” according to its website, including all EverID infrastructure. When the user shares his or her EverID, what is actually shared is a pointer to the user’s biometrically protected digital storage locker. If the World Food Program enrolls individuals to grant them aid, no other UN agency gets access to their data, Witteman tells Biometric Update. The user maintains full control.
“The user is the key, that’s why we use the biometry the way that we do,” he explains, and provides an example of how. “We actually created a special file called the EverID Datagram. That Datagram, that file, is the layers of the encrypted nugget, and each of those layers of the onion has another level of biometry protecting it, and another knowledge block protecting it. In order for me to unlock your EverID, I need your facial biometry and your PIN. That gives me your demographic information like your contact email address, your full name. Those are the only things that I get. Now you want to spend money out of your EverWallet? I now need a fingerprint and your PIN.”
Witteman describes himself as a usability geek, and the company has worked to build ease of use into both sides of the platform. Potential partner organizations are those having trouble managing large communities, and Everest thinks it has the answer, with a web portal that enables a range of administrative actions, such as provisioning vouchers across a distributed system each month
“That capacity for the platform to address large community regularly is something that is lacking in almost any other blockchain platform, that is a very unique thing to our identity system,” Witteman says.
The company is looking for large institutions to help with identity problems. By doing so, it can reach and help the most people. Witteman says they are often vaulting people from the 9th to the 21st century, and points out that “digital identity is the gateway to all service in the 21st century,” according to the Asian Development Bank.
“We want to make sure we’re making the best digital identity for the user, while providing sufficient information to our partners so that our partners can do their jobs.”
Getting buy-in from partner organizations such as aid agencies by convincing them of EverID’s value to them is what will enable the ecosystem to expand, which will make EverID’s and the related services more valuable to users. While Witteman says the company already has a government partner for a trial in Indonesia to help manage the delivery of propane aid, he sees part of EverID’s potential as being used internationally alongside other ID systems.
Some of those, other systems will evolve in the meantime. When asked if EverID can provide benefit alongside a system like Aadhaar, Witteman points out that India’s national ID system was created during a period of innovation which has since produced different approaches to solving the same problems.
“If they’d built it on a blockchain, they would not be having the kind of incursions into the database that they are,” he argues. “It gets broken into every six to seven weeks because they post nodes of their database in each of the country’s states, and each state has a varying capacity to secure a digital good.”
Witteman believes Everest can serve as a way to provide some of the same benefits as Aadhaar is intended to deliver for countries in different circumstances, such as a regional group made up of several smaller nations. There are also some eleven million adults without legal identity in the U.S., he says, suggesting that it will have potential value alongside existing systems in most markets for the foreseeable future. He also points out that as identity systems are continually evolving, effective technology and approaches will be adopted in different ways.
“Will we replace Aadhaar? Probably not. Will Aadhaar be upgraded to look more like EverID? I think it should be.”
Everest is intended to serve areas of need, first and foremost, according to Witteman, rather than address the most lucrative market areas. With ID4D efforts on the clock as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, however, more humanitarian opportunities are immense.