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Civic Tech Startup ePluribus Changes Name, Adds Digital IDs

The company, now called Be Heard, has launched a blockchain-based solution for verifying users' identities it thinks could help with things like municipal IDs. The twist: All information is stored on a person's device.

by / February 11, 2020

A California startup focused on verifying people’s identities in order to help them talk to their elected representatives, ePluribus, is changing its name to Be Heard.

The company’s name switch comes amid some changes to the company; it started with tools to help people easily look up their elected leaders and sent them messages but it has since launched an identity management app to provide verification and validation of its users.

“(EPluribus) is difficult to pronounce and remember, and many people do not intuitively connect ePluribus to the motto that is its namesake,” the company wrote in an email. “We think that ‘Be Heard’ conveys a similar dedication to the democratic process while being easier to pronounce, to remember, and to understand. It was our motto from the beginning for a reason: We want to help anyone, anywhere stand up for what they believe in and cut through the noise.”

The names of its products will stay the same.

The most recent of those products, Unum ID, is an “enabler” of the rest of the company’s services, co-founder Aidan McCarty told Government Technology at the annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference in October. That is, because it can help verify a person’s identity, it can also give elected officials and their staff more confidence that a person reaching out to them is actually their constituent.

The company verifies users through their mobile phones, email addresses and home addresses.

The service could, in the future, have myriad other applications for government work — drivers' licenses, passports, health-care and even security clearances could all use services like Unum ID, McCarty said. One particular area of interest for the company is municipal IDs, a trend that has picked up across the country as local government has looked for better ways to provide services to hard-to-reach citizens.

“Ultimately this is going to be a single source of truth for all of the different services in your life,” McCarty said. “The very first application of that is civics because it’s something that everybody understands and there’s a very clear use case [for] the tech.”

The product, launched shortly after Samsung NEXT invested in the company, has a somewhat unique twist to it. It is run on a private blockchain, which means that it operates like a normal blockchain — decentralized governance of a common ledger — but access to the blockchain is limited. Therefore, only verified users with the right permissions can make changes to the chain.

And in the name of security, the blockchain itself doesn’t store identity information. All identification data is stored on a person’s mobile device, and the blockchain simply contains public keys to denote users.

“There’s literally no database of information to breach,” McCarty said. “It’s only stored on the person’s phone, encrypted with their biometric [data]. So it’s incredibly secure.”

That means that if somebody loses their phone or for some reason can’t access their account, they must re-verify themselves, McCarty said. However, the company is interested in setting up another private blockchain that will actually store backup information that could only be accessed by the user with biometric verification.

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