Technical advisor resigns from ID2020 Alliance criticizing direction and immunity passports stance

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ID2020 Alliance Technical Advisory Committee Member Elizabeth Renieris has resigned from the organization due to a difference of opinion on the organization’s direction, according to CoinDesk.

Renieris is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and Board Member with IDPro, and CoinDesk writes that her resignation email alleges the organization is not transparent, is at risk of undue corporate influence, and prone to “techno-solutionism.” She expressed uncertainty at ID2020’s mission, and suggests that it is focused on promoting “decentralized identity solutions at all costs.”

A white paper co-authored by Renieris earlier in May takes aim at the effectiveness and legality of proposed “immunity passports,” and expresses concern about the risks to civil liberties they pose, as well as to private health information from the use of blockchain under the present circumstances. The Covid Credentials Initiative (CCI), which combines the W3C Verifiable Credentials standard with decentralized identifiers (DIDs) and blockchain technology, and was at one point considered for support by ID2020, is criticized.

“The technical architecture is arguably a product of premature standardization, speculative requirements, and highly experimental technologies, rather than the harmonization of existing, widely deployed, and battle-tested solutions,” the authors state.

Renieris also mentions corporate influence. A former Microsoft employee was recently elected Chair of ID2020’s Board of Directors, which also includes a current Microsoft executive.

“This is 100% a hammer looking for a nail,” according to Renieris’ email, as reported by CoinDesk.

A white paper written by ID2020 Executive Director Dakota Gruener and published in April acknowledges privacy and other risks associated with immunity certificates, but argues there is a way to implement them consistent with the organization’s principles for digital ID. The paper, and the way it was announced, appear to be included in the conflict.

“We are grateful to Elizabeth Renieris for her service over the past year as a member of the ID2020 Technical Advisory Committee. We applaud and share her commitment to human rights in the context of digital identity. Her feedback has always been thoughtful and was particularly formative to the development of my recent white paper on ‘immunity certificates,'” Gruener wrote in a statement.

“We have been consistent in our assertion that technology must not be viewed as a panacea when it comes to addressing this pandemic. Technology solutions must be accompanied by robust, fit-for-purpose trust frameworks and legislative and regulatory actions to ensure their ethical implementation and transparency. These should be developed through an open and inclusive public process that includes elected officials, public health officials, technologists, employers, and social justice and digital privacy advocates.

“At every step, we have sought feedback from civil liberties and digital privacy groups to ensure that these considerations are not an afterthought, but rather are built into the technical architecture of any digital health certificate system.

“The stakes are high and we have one chance to get this right. Even with these safeguards in place, digital health certificates may still be insufficient to meet the current challenge. However, absent such safeguards, we can be assured that they will do more harm than good,” Gruener writes.

“For the last two years Microsoft has been working with industry partners in the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF) and ID2020 to lay the groundwork for an open standards-based, privacy-enhancing, identity system which will give people control over where they store their personal information and who they share it with,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Identity Program Management Alex Simons told CoinDesk, emphasizing the importance of decentralized control and multiple stakeholders.

The ID2020 Alliance welcomed Mastercard as its newest member organization earlier this month.

This post was updated with Gruener’s complete statement at 7:27pm Eastern on May 29, 2020.

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