In general, the view that “technology is neutral and can be used for good or bad” is becoming less prominent, and the idea that technology always has built-in values is becoming more popular. In the case of Sovrin, those built-in values are individual control, sovereignty and private+secure communication. It fundamentally lies in the nature of certain cryptographic operations that they enable actors with very limited resources to resist actors with enormous resources.
Whether or not this specific technology is good or bad, and what effect it will have on the world, is not an easy question. The reality is that technology often drives change without much societal reflection and political discourse. Someone simply built blockchain and similar technologies and now we have them, and the world never had a chance to really think about their consequences or vote on their introduction. Do these technologies create equality and opportunity for all, or do they accelerate economic greed and environmental destruction? Do they protect our privacy, or do they help bad actors?
- One argument is “Yes Sovrin will help terrorists, but only the stupid terrorists, because the smart ones know how to protect themselves anyway”. I think this argument is mostly convincing, but not entirely, because of course Sovrin can make it easier for more bad actors than before to now protect their communication. And of course Sovrin does indeed offer new mechanisms for secure communication that have never existed before.
- Then the next argument could be that in the classic trade-off between “freedom, privacy, etc.” vs “security, surveillance, etc.” we currently have a strong imbalance towards the latter, and that therefore technologies that help with the former are a good thing. In other words, we accept the price that Sovrin and similar technologies will help bad actors, understanding that the reward will be better foundations for our digital societies.
I don’t agree with the statement that Sovrin could not provide a backdoor for intercepting or manipulating communication. It could certainly do that through code updates, or by trying to control trustees or validator nodes. This comes down to the question of who is ultimately in control of a communication system. The essence of the Ethereum DAO “hard fork” debate was whether the highest authority should be human governance or an unstoppable computer algorithm. Both can go terribly wrong (think Hitler or Skynet, respectively).
In these design questions, Sovrin goes to great lengths to establish a sophisticated “diffuse trust” concept both on the human governance and technology level, in order to get things “right”. One “bug” may be that Sovrin in practice is at the moment quite disproportionately U.S. based, considering its role as a “global public utility”. But otherwise the thinking behind the Sovrin architecture for individual independence and sovereignty is novel and deep, and more advanced than with other technologies currently out there.