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The smart city: Unthinkable without self-sovereign identity

In recent years, numerous political actors have dedicated themselves to the digitalisation of municipalities. However, the smart city is clearly more than a political prestige object. On the one hand, it promises to make the lives of citizens easier and more sustainable, but on the other hand, it also dismantles bureaucratic structures of the state and companies. A win-win situation for all involved – or so it seems. Because where the smart city is supposed to emerge to make citizens’ lives easier, new problems emerge. Insufficient security of personal data and closed software solutions are the enemies of the smart city. Self-sovereign identity (SSI) solves these problems and at the same time creates more acceptance among citizens for the digitalisation of existing structures.

Open ecosystems in the smart city

Digitisation of analogue structures in a smart city. However, the motto cannot be “digitalisation at any price”. From the user’s point of view, old digitalised processes must offer the user added value. This consists first of all in structures that are simpler and thus more accessible than the previous ones. If the new system is more complicated than the previous one, the digitalisation of municipalities will not succeed.

Accordingly, it is not very effective for companies such as transport associations to create their own exclusive app offers that are not connectable. The smart city therefore requires an open ecosystem that provides interoperable structures. A digital housing permit valid for North Rhine-Westphalia must be just as easy to use in Cologne as in Arnsberg. Bus, train or plane tickets must be in the same app, regardless of the service provider. Only in this way are digital certificates superior to their physical counterparts.

As an open ecosystem, the SSI provides the necessary solutions. Company-specific apps for the use of certain services are no longer necessary; instead, users only act from an app. At the centre is the wallet of the digital identity, in which numerous authorisations such as the bus ticket, the access card for the gym or official documents can be stored. It also triggers the transmission of the encrypted certificates from the blockchain and thus sets the legitimisation process in motion.

Digital security in the smart city

Data security is more important than ever for citizens in the smart city. Thanks to blockchain technology and digital wallet, this is the case. The zero-knowledge proof of the SSI guarantees data protection, as only certain attributes are queried that do not include sensitive personal data. Self-sovereign identity also offers clear advantages if the smartphone is lost. It is costly to replace a lost physical identity and in the case of an identity card or driving licence, it even involves costs. The loss of a digital certificate on a terminal device – for example, through accidental deletion – is not initially tragic. Digital ID documents can be stored in the wallet as often as desired. If the terminal device is lost, the certificates stored in the blockchain can simply be decoupled from the wallet or the wallet can even be reset remotely.

Benefits of SSI for Retail, Hospitality and Smart Governance

With the Online Access Act, applying for a housing entitlement certificate (WBS) or housing benefit will also be possible online in the future. Proof of a low income as well as the housing situation can be submitted digitally to authorities. The response to the request will then also be made electronically. In the Smart City, the WBS can now be stored in the wallet and the certificate stored in the blockchain can be transmitted digitally to the landlord. Certificates or residence permits can also be stored in the Wallet. Physical copies no longer need to be made in the Smart City. This saves time and resources for citizens, employers and landlords.

But retail, gastronomy and many other areas also benefit from the SSI in the smart city. Among other things, the wallet is suitable for storing bonus cards or membership cards, but it also offers other advantages. With the self-sovereign identity, bonus programmes can be set up across businesses by local companies without users having to disclose personal data. Co-operations between different businesses such as the fitness studio and the vegan restaurant or the sports outfitter are thus easier to implement.