Bitnation – The Unworkable Utopian Dream – Trustnodes

Bitnation – The Unworkable Utopian Dream


Bitnation, one of the older identity projects, is trying to create a new system where your identity has plausible-deniability. Instead of a central government or entity, Bitnation is using a blockchain which allows anyone to register their name, date of birth and upload a picture. The details are stored on a json file and for $35 you can get a Bitnation ID card.

Called world citizenship, the project has been working on providing identification to refugees fleeing war zones often with no identifying documents. Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, founder of Bitnation, stated:

“The very point of Bitnation IDs is pseudo-anonymity… We designed the refugee ID staying as far away as we possibly could from biometrics, to ensure we wouldn’t accidentally engineer a WWII situation, putting people on trains.”

There are around 2,000 Bitnation citizens shown on the website with the directory presenting a familiar feature of the internet – real names intermingled with nicknames – real pictures intermingled with fake. Anyone can enter any information they wish as name or date of birth and can update their information at anytime to anything they like as long as they have retained their private key. This is by design, says Tempelhof, who argues that Bitnation ID is:

“[P]recise enough to be usable, vague enough to be deniable…If someone attempts to put you on a train to somewhere, based on your identity, it’s vague enough that you can deny it’s you (i.e. they can’t tie it to your flesh identity) – see Auswitch or current refugee deportations for reference. Plausible deniability goes a long way.”

Although the aim is certainly noble, it is very difficult to see how this can work in practice. The very point of an ID is to prove who you are. If you can change your date of birth, your picture, your details, at any time you please, then we can imagine a lot of fraud and a breakdown in commerce as traders would not be able to trust counterparties or have legal recourse.

If such details as name, date of birth, picture, parent’s name, can easily be changed at any point, one would need to trust the person and the nickname, but if such trust is required then there is no need for an ID at all.

The whole point of an ID is to prove identity to individuals that do not know you. How would a policeman who just stopped your car, for example, trust the ID you provided or the bank that is to lend you money, or the judge that orders you to pay it? An ID system based on plausible-deniability is not an ID system.

It is more correct to call this a Bitnation Nickname. Like in many forums online and especially on reddit, one can create any nickname they like and as many as they like with a minority choosing to use their real name, but few providing their real date of birth.

This solution may have been provided because digitizing the current ID system with the assistance of the blockchain is very difficult. The blockchain part is easy, but ensuring that there is only one ID per person – with details, such as picture, changed once a decade or so – in such a way that strangers can trust the ID, requires an execution that has not yet been implemented.

There are many projects working on digitizing IDs with immense potential rewards for the successful project – from minimizing, if not fully eliminating, corruption, fraud, identity theft and numerous other crimes, to digitizing contracts by signing with your ID key as well as making official paper far more dynamic and natively digital.

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