On 30 and 31 March 2017, I attended the WACREN annual conference in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. WACREN (West and Central African Research and Education Network) is a collective organized effort to build organizational and technical capacity aiming at building and operating a world class network infrastructure, developing state of the art services, promoting collaboration among higher education institutions in countries of west and central Africa. Initiated by the Association of African Universities, it started up in 2006. On their website (http://wacren.net/) theirs objectives are formulated as follows.
The objectives of WACREN is the promotion and establishment of interconnections between national research and education networks in West and Central Africa to form a regional research and education network, the interconnection of this network with other regional and continental networks, and the provision of services aiming at fostering collaboration between research and education institutions in the region as well as between them and peer institutions at continental and international levels.
At WACREN 2017, the topics presented or discussed ranged from library and digital services to Software Defined Network (SDN) and transmission delays, from connectivity and resource sharing to identity and security. The main theme of the conference was “Catalyzing Quality Higher Education and Research,” with the following sub-themes:
i) Advanced networks, applications and services (SDN, Cloud services, NOCaaS, …)
ii) Trust, Identity and Security
iii) NRENs and communities: Business models, Communities of Practice, Use cases and Collaboration
The topic for my talk is “From State Administration to Blockchain: A Policy Perspective on Fundamentals of Identity.”
I shared some lessons from the modern state era identity credentials drawing on my research. Identity has worked (and scaled) so well to the extent that not only the users (identity subjects) have subscribed to it, for reasons ranging from efficient incentives to coercion, but also that third parties which played no role in issuing such identity have come to rely on it.
Then I briefly recalled the process of the making of digital identity from early 2000’s, from centralized identity to federated identity to user-centric identity.
I went on to introduce self-sovereign identity and its principles while outlining the promises of blockchain technology in that regard. I specifically discussed the case of Sovrin Identity Network and its fundamental principles, outlining the various stakeholders involved as well as the model of governance including the accompanying policies (business, legal and technical).
In the Q&A section, I realized that there were adept of SAML in the room (of course they know Eve Maler ;-)) and they were skeptical about blockchain as the way forward. While recognizing that the battle is not won yet, I tried to reiterate and counter with the promises of blockchain (and Sovrin), but we might as well have comparative talking points ready, specifically showing the advantage of blockchain-based solutions over SAML, or the much needed additions they might bring to it.
Among large institutions in attendance –and supporting one way or the other the WACREN networking efforts—are included: Orange Cote d’Ivoire, UbuntuNet Alliance, Main One, XON, AfricaConnect2, Glo1, ICANN, etc.