Vignette 7: The state of play of self-sovereign identity in the Netherlands

Carla Pereira

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Like many other countries worldwide, self-sovereign identity (SSI) is on the rise in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations, the policy manager for the Dutch (digital) identity infrastructure, published a vision statement, Digital Identity, and therein confirmed that the Dutch government sees an active role for itself in creating trust in the digital world for citizens and businesses and recognised that having reliable data is crucial for this to happen. However, its own position and policy regarding SSI and how this relates to the vision statement on digital identity was vague. Noting the growing call from Europe and the private sector for the Dutch government to take a clear stance on digital data exchange, the Dutch government commissioned INNOPAY and TNO to undertake a study to analyse the current initiatives around SSI and digital data exchange and its implication for the Netherlands. Drawing on desktop research, online surveys from market parties and several interviews with stakeholders and experts in the SSI field, this exploratory study analysed the Dutch SSI playing field, (inter)national developments and future development directions and its impact on public values.

According to this study, there are many SSI trial initiatives (experiments) in the Netherlands, but the landscape is fragmented. More than 90 organisations are directly or indirectly active in the Dutch SSI playing field, classified in one of four categories: SSI Users, SSI Suppliers, SSI Knowledge Suppliers, and Partnerships and Standards Setting Institutions. Critical mass has not (yet) been achieved by individual suppliers of SSI solutions. SSI ideas are not (yet) mature enough for large-scale use in society. Limited source data availability and limited reusability in other domains forms a barrier to value creation. The various pilot initiatives are showing the potential of SSI, but there is little cooperation between the different initiatives, leading to a fragmented field in both the private and public sectors. There are competing ideas about the best interpretation of SSI, also because certain essential concepts are not yet properly evolved. Organisations still focus mainly on the development of their own products, and to a lesser extent on collaboration and interoperability with other initiatives. Many parties are reluctant to disclose and use data via SSI, which also explains why a critical mass has not yet formed.

There is a lack of clarity on how the different legal frameworks that are being developed relate to each other. Consequently, large commercial parties often move faster than legislative developments, resulting in their domination and disruption of the market. The participants in the field argue that lack of clarity around the developing legal frameworks hampers further scaling up of SSI. This is because the frameworks deal with different aspects of digital data exchange. When the legal frameworks have been established, new legislative pathways to contain power and manage competition may be necessary.

The following recommendations were put to the Dutch government for consideration for making SSI a reality in the Netherlands:

  1. An integrated vision linking the Dutch digital identity landscape and data exchange to an ambitious implementation agenda is necessary. It will need to European developments around the EU Digital Identity Wallet into account and ensure that both private and public users, can realise the social value of digital data exchange in the shortest possible time.

  2. Drive public-private cooperation towards consolidating a harmonised and interoperable digital data exchange field by bringing the knowledge and expertise of the 90+ parties already experimenting with SSI to work towards further upscaling. Additionally, this best practice will need to find its way to the bodies in Europe working on the further detailing of the EU Digital Identity wallet.

  3. For the government to break through the chicken-egg problem for digital data exchange by proactively making source data available via 'digital agents' and/or 'data at the source’ interaction models, and use source data for validation and optimisation of its own business processes. By doing so, the social value of digital data exchange can be realised.

Clearly, the challenges of implementing SSI in South Africa are not unique to developing countries. The analysis in this report has shown that the technology and ideas surrounding SSI are not mature, even in developed countries such as the Netherlands. There are still many unanswered questions that must be crystallised before SSI can fully deliver on its promises, but it seems to be on the right trajectory. The recommendations put forward in this study for the Dutch government should be considered for South Africa as we are experiencing the same challenges, perhaps to a more significant degree.

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