"SSI fulfils its potential with universal use"
29.08.2022 – Mark Schröder, Computerworld
Interview Computerworld dated 26.08.2022
Switzerland does not yet have a digital form of ID, although it is in the works. Michael Gerber of SBB is convinced that SSI will only reach its full potential if it can be used internationally.
There is a whole range of use cases for self-sovereign identity (SSI). SBB is evaluating it in pilot projects, says Michael Gerber. The senior systems architect explains the challenges and opportunities he sees with the introduction of SSI in the public transport sector.
How does Switzerland compare with other countries where digital IDs are concerned?
Switzerland is placed in the lower middle rankings of European countries in the EU's E‑Government Benchmark 2021. We lag behind because we don't have government-issued digital IDs, with the related laws and strategies. As a result, Swiss citizens don't have the smooth access to online government services, for example, that people in other countries enjoy.
What are the issues with introducing SSI?
SSI only reaches its full potential if it is used universally by citizens, government organisations and the private sector. The greatest challenges are probably user acceptance and the willingness of private and public-sector organisations to digitalise all of their processes, and to standardise credentials across organisations and national borders. Users might find it particularly tricky to balance sovereign control over their own data and the personal responsibility that comes with that. We need clear rules on data protection.
SBB supports the SwissPass, for example. Could that solution be extended for SSI use?
There are some 5.5 million SwissPass customer cards, issued by Alliance SwissPass. The core function of the SwissPass is to reference public transport travelcards and services such as car and bike-sharing, or ski passes. When it is checked on the train the SwissPass card also IDs the customer. With that in mind it is entirely possible to issue the card as part of an SSI network, although there are no specific projects for that just yet.
"Users might find it particularly tricky to balance sovereign control over their own data and the personal responsibility that comes with that."
What role does SSI play in international goods and passenger transport?
Since the development of SSI networks is being driven in Europe and by the EU, we see huge potential for both goods and passenger transport. In the future it will be possible to check the authenticity and validity of information digitally, no matter what country you are in, and using the same medium throughout.
How important to SBB is the international compatibility of SSI systems?
Internationally compatible SSI networks are of key importance, not just to SBB but to the entire economy and therefore to the whole of the Swiss population.
What role does your IT partner, Ergon, play in SBB's SSI solutions?
At present SBB uses Ergon products for a variety of applications, such as the SwissPass login. However, in our pilot SSI projects we use a range of products from different providers.
SBB is working on pilot projects for SSI. What use cases do these cover?
In our 'Digital address confirmation’ project we're looking into how the processes involved in providing this confirmation can be replicated digitally. At the moment, customers living in the same household can buy a reduced-price Duo Partner GA Travelcard. That's conditional upon annual confirmation from their local authority that they do actually live together. Getting hold of this confirmation currently involves various different media, so it can be hard work for customers, and often expensive. In our pilot project these confirmations are issued as digital certificates. Their authenticity and validity can also be checked digitally via SSI networks, in compliance with data protection regulations and therefore securely. The project is helping us to gain some initial practical experience with SSI. It means that we can identify potential everyday obstacles early on.