Vignette 4 | Case study: European Blockchain Service Infrastructure

Simphiwe Ntuli

Vignette 4.jpg

The European Blockchain Service Infrastructure (EBSI) is an initiative by the European Commission and the European Blockchain Partnership that aims to connect Europe by delivering cross-border public services through the use of blockchain technology (Verbeek et al., 2021). At the heart of this initiative is self-sovereign identity (SSI) which is being used to implement a Self-Sovereign Identity model in Europe, allowing users to create and control their own identity across borders (Pastor, 2021) without having to rely on central authorities (Dávila, 2020). To achieve this, the European Self-Sovereign Identity Framework (ESSIF) was developed with the objective to create and define standards for European Self-Sovereign Identity as well as provide the necessary supporting capabilities based on EBSI infrastructure with a focus on identities of natural persons and legal entities (Dávila, 2020).

In terms of how the objective is meant to be achieved, the following factors have been identified as key to success in this endeavour:

  • Definition of specifications and guidelines for technological components of ESSIF: EBSI wallet, ledgers (public and private), Identity HUB, Trusted Issuers Registries, application programming interfaces (APIs) to access diverse services, etc.;
  • Definition of trust and governance frameworks: ESSIF Trust Framework, ESSIF Governance Framework;
  • The creation of the core services and minimal reference implementations for capabilities;
  • The design and provision of flows for the different processes that can take place: the creation of identity, issuance of Verifiable Credentials (e.g. Verifiable IDs, Verifiable Attestations), sharing and verification of Verifiable Presentations, etc.;
  • The interaction and alignment with the broader SSI market/ecosystem.

Subsequently, in late 2021 EBSI ran a multi-university pilot which encouraged early adopter member states to test their solutions in a real life setting. The pilot ran for four months ending in November 2021 (Fillis, 2021). The goal of the pilot was to:

  • Allow member states to test the interoperability of their solutions with other key actors in the ecosystem;
  • Allow for the exchange of verifiable credentials by students and universities: trusted accreditation organisations; trust issuers; holders of credentials; wallet providers and other partners;
  • Demonstrate that the EBSI can implement cross-border verification of educational credentials based on Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) principles;
  • Show that a verifiable attestation (such as a diploma) issued by one member state can be verified by a university or third party, an employer for example, from another member state.

According to the European Blockchain Partnership quarterly meeting held on 9th – 10th December, the pilot was a success. Willeke, from the City of Amsterdam and graduate from Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Netherlands successfully applied for a Master’s degree in Spain from the University of Rovira i Virgili using her Verifiable_ID, aligned to eIDAS, university and her Bachelor degree completed at Saxion University (Martin, 2021). The pilot successfully demonstrated cross border interaction using the decentralised paradigm, verifiable credentials, and self-sovereign identity provided by EBSI and ESSIF, and the source of trust provided by the blockchain ledger, all in a decentralised way thus avoiding profiling, preserving citizens identity and fully empowering citizens with real ownership and control over their identities and data in an easy way, thanks to ESSIF conformant wallets (Martin, 2021).

In contrast with what is happening in Europe, Africa is lagging behind. Europe is at a stage of piloting their solutions, having done the groundwork and established the collaborations, legal and technical frameworks, and developed standards along with regulation and policies. However, there have been some developments in the space of SSI in South Africa with entities such as the Financial Blockchain Consortium (SAFBC) and BankservAfrica working towards the realisation of SSI in the country. BankservAfrica, with the support of PwC, has been facilitating discussions with banks (Absa, Capitec Bank, Standard Bank, FNB, Investec and Old Mutual), FinTechs and government to explore the building blocks for a digital identity programme to unpack critical success factors in realising a holistic digital identity programme for South Africa (BankservAfrica, 2021). The outcomes of these discussions, together with results from international case studies, surveys, interviews and focus group discussions, found that:

  1. A digital identity is key to the growth of a digital economy.
  2. A trusted and secure digital identity will improve online transactions.
  3. Consumers will gain social and economic benefit.

Furthermore, it became apparent that, due to the critical role of identity management in the 4IR, there is a growing need for the roll-out of a digital identity programme in South Africa. For the benefits to be realised and the impact on the economy to take full effect, the digital identity policy at government level and the development of integrated solutions by businesses need to be a high priority for all stakeholders (BankservAfrica, 2021). As a result of their findings BankservAfrica and their community of partners are moving to phase two of their initiative, which involves (Hamilton, 2021):

  1. Business stream to establish the commercial model that works for all participants while keeping the end-user consumer top of mind.
  2. Governance stream for building trust and governance and to establish the participation rules, the minimum requirements and ensure a healthy, mobilised ecosystem.
  3. Technology stream that will involve creating a sandbox for community members to test use cases and to test their Digital Identity solutions for interoperability, different attributes and technology skills.

As a member of this community Absa has already declared in the public space that they want to introduce SSI in their organisation (Pillay & Mouton, 2021). As an industry leader, Absa is positioned to influence forward progress within the SSI space in South Africa. Further, as one of the top four banks in South Africa, their interconnectedness with institutions in South Africa and across the rest of Africa can only serve to benefit the SSI development process.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our mailing list and stay on the pulse of the latest PSET CLOUD news.