[2020] Identity and Personhood in Digital Democracy: Evaluating Inclusion, Equality, Security, and Privacy in Pseudonym Parties and Other Proofs of Personhood

Abstract: Digital identity seems like a prerequisite for digital democracy: how can we ensure “one person, one vote” online without identifying voters? But digital identity solutions - ID checking, biometrics, self-sovereign identity, and trust networks - all present flaws, leaving users vulnerable to exclusion, identity loss or theft, and coercion. These flaws may be insurmountable because digital identity is a cart pulling the horse. We cannot achieve digital identity secure enough for the weight of digital democracy, until we build it on a solid foundation of “digital personhood.” While identity is about distinguishing one person from another through attributes or affiliations, personhood is about giving all real people inalienable digital participation rights independent of identity, including protection against erosion of their democratic rights through identity loss, theft, coercion, or fakery.
We explore and analyze alternative approaches to “proof of personhood” that may provide this missing foundation. Pseudonym parties marry the transparency of periodic physical-world events with the power of digital tokens between events. These tokens represent limited-term but renewable claims usable for purposes such as online voting or liquid democracy, sampled juries or deliberative polls, abuse-resistant social communication, or minting universal basic income in a permissionless cryptocurrency. Enhancing pseudonym parties to provide participants a moment of enforced physical security and privacy can address coercion and vote-buying risks that plague today’s E-voting systems. We also examine other proposed approaches to proof of personhood, some of which offer conveniences such as all-online participation. These alternatives currently fall short of satisfying all the key digital personhood goals, unfortunately, but offer valuable insights into the challenges we face.

  author       = {Bryan Ford},
  title        = {Identity and Personhood in Digital Democracy: Evaluating Inclusion,
                  Equality, Security, and Privacy in Pseudonym Parties and Other Proofs
                  of Personhood},
  journal      = {CoRR},
  volume       = {abs/2011.02412},
  year         = {2020},
  url          = {https://arxiv.org/abs/2011.02412},
  eprinttype    = {arXiv},
  eprint       = {2011.02412},
  timestamp    = {Mon, 09 Nov 2020 10:30:14 +0100},
  biburl       = {https://dblp.org/rec/journals/corr/abs-2011-02412.bib},
  bibsource    = {dblp computer science bibliography, https://dblp.org}

Hypothesis annotations.

My highlights: https://ia601600.us.archive.org/35/items/elopio-papers/2020-identity_and_personhood_in_digital_democracy.pdf

Who even is a legitimate member of an online democratic constituency?

Digital identity is neither necessary nor sufficient for digital democracy. Using attributes to identify people digitally only compromises the inclusion, equality, security, and privacy goals.

Digital personhood, in contrast, is inalienable in the way our bodies are, and in the way we take fundamental human rights to be.

Proof-of-personhood must be inclusive of nearly every living, able-bodied person wishing to participate, independent of factors such as nationality, wealth, race, gender, connections, education, or expertise. Proof-of-personhood must further ensure that each participant obtains an equal fundamental basis for participation in digital democracy: “one person, one vote.” Proof-of-personhood must protect individuals from misuse of their digital devices and credentials, and must protect the democratic collective against subversion through digital identity forgery, astroturfing, social bots, and other Sybil attacks. Finally, proof-of-personhood must protect individuals’ privacy to ensure that they can freely exchange information and express their true preferences in digital deliberation and voting, free from corrupt and undemocratic influence through surveillance, coercion, or bribery.

Pseudonym parties are periodic real-world events where people wishing to wield a vote online gather to demonstrate their genuine personhood publicly, each obtaining one-per-person digital tokens usable for voting and other purposes during the next time period. No requirement that people be identified in any way.

With the tokens minted at each party having a limited valid lifetime only until the next periodic event. The digital tokens scanned and published at each event are merely cryptographic random numbers that contain no personal information or traceable link to their owners. Attendees might even wear masks and costumes.

Each voter can obtain both real and fake tokens. Giving the fake tokens to anyone offering to buy their vote. Attendees need a moment of privacy at a public event, to learn which is which but be unable to prove this fact.

A pseudonym party needs to be publicly transparent enough, and documented through enough independent sources of evidence both human and digital. The organizers publish a list of the anonymous tokens they handed out.

Only death or permanent incapacitation should be able to deprive a person of digital personhood or participation in digital democracy. Individuals must have inclusive paths to recover or rebuild their digital lives even after the most extreme physical or digital compromises.