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Illinois Announces Key Partnership in Birth Registry Blockchain Pilot

The state of Illinois, which has six blockchain pilots underway, will partner with Utah-based Evernym for a birth registry pilot meant to individualize and secure identities.

The next steps in Illinois’ many blockchain pilots are beginning to take shape, as the state has announced it will partner with Utah-based Evernym, a leader in individually controlled digital identity solutions, in its birth registration pilot.

The endeavor, one of six distinct blockchain explorations Illinois began last summer with a working group, is expected to utilize the Sovrin Foundation’s publicly available distributed identity ledger and expand upon accomplishments of the W3C Verifiable Claims Task Force, the state said Aug. 31.

Recognizing that identity — and, now, digital identity — begin at birth, the state will explore using these technologies to create “a secure ‘self-sovereign’ identity for Illinois citizens during the birth registration process,” it said in the announcement.

This has been an ascendant year for blockchain, the encrypted digital recording of a transaction or an event through a shared “incorruptible” ledger.

It isn’t in wide use among state, county or local governments. But states including Illinois, Delaware and New Jersey are deeply interested and in May, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) added blockchain to a list of the “next big, transformational technologies.”

Illinois has six pilots now underway, up from five in May, and is planning to deliver proofs of concept by the end of 2017, CIO Hardik Bhatt has said.

In an effort to effectively manage resources, the state has reclassified its six pilots by urgency as either Priority 1 or Priority 2.

Not surprisingly, the birth registry pilot is one of three Priority 1 pilots, along with a blockchain exploration with the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulations (DFPR) that could let residents verify doctors’ licenses and insurance through an app; and an examination of tracking continuing education credentials underway with DFPR and the University of Illinois.

Self-sovereign identity, a Sovrin specialty, is a digital identity that’s entirely controlled by the person to whom it belongs — but can also be quickly and securely validated by agencies and private-sector businesses without turning to a “centralized repository,” the state said in its statement.

“To structurally address the many issues surrounding digital identity, we felt it was important to develop a framework that examines identity from its inception at child birth,” Jennifer O’Rourke, business liaison for the Illinois Blockchain Initiative (IBI), said in the statement.

Identity, O’Rourke noted, is “foundational to nearly every government service,” as well as being the basis for public sector “trust and legitimacy.”

In the framework that Illinois and Evernym are partnering on, government agencies are expected to verify birth registration information and then “cryptographically sign” attributes such as legal name, date of birth, sex or blood type.

This would then create what’s known as “verifiable claims” or attributes. Permission to view or share these government-verified claims would be stored on a “tamper-proof distributed ledger protocol” as a decentralized identifier, the state has said.

It would guarantee each attribute is “cryptographically sealed” and can only be accessed with the permission of the person or his or her legal guardian.

Returning primary control to an individual would naturally lessen the need for agencies and private sector businesses to keep their own databases of identity information.

The state's other three Priority 2 pilots are a property title transfer conducted with Cook County, the state’s largest county; a use case on the recording of academic credentialing; and a tracking of Renewable Energy Credits, which are generated by creating electricity through wind turbines or solar panels and subsequently traded.

In an August interview with Government Technology, Bhatt, the state’s outgoing CIO, said he thought government would be more a “player” than a driver of the full adoption of blockchain.

“It has made its place on the hype cycle, it’s moving up and we’ll see how does the adoption (go)? You know this is a foundational technology, so it’s going to take time really for adoption,” Bhatt told GT.

The CIO confirmed to GT on Thursday, Sept. 7 that he will be leaving the state for a role at Amazon.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.