A Brief For Thinking Locally And Globally For Digital Wallets And Identification

Filed by


in the

Department under

Editor: Michael Shea prepares the Digital Identity from Vienna guest panelists with a brief. This was used for the May 2, 2023 discussion announced here last week. More information on the event archive.

The ability to shift populations and gain (or force) adoption of new public policy positions is linked to the ability of the public sector form of governance. Over the past 20+ years the potential of truly digital economies and societies have been expounded endlessly but the results have been mixed with a consistent short fall in the meeting of expectations. High assurant digital identity appears to provide the final missing element to allow full digitalization of society to take place.

The public sector forms outlined here are generalizations for the purpose of framing a discussion around the design, implementation and adoption of digital wallets and the digital identifiers and credentials stored there-in, and to facilitate a discussion on how interactions would/could work when populations of the different forms interact in a global ecosystem.

In each of the forms, a private sector also operates and attempts to influence (to a greater or lesser degree) the setting public policy. Motivators of the private sector may be greatly different than that of public policy and as such creates a tension or a ‘force’ that may result in failure to realize expected gains from the policies. The private sector has also a desire to bring digital identity into practice, but its motivators are highly driven by rent extraction, not public policy or (necessarily) public good. Additionally, there are very powerful market forces for monopolization and control where those that ‘control’ the source of digital identification can gain very significant rents from society.

Central authority, strong decentralized authority with wary support of population

  • A central authority that constitutionally or legally has constraints on its authority.
  • The central authority typically must work with a network of strong decentralized bodies (state or provincial governments) who retain rights that are not granted to the central authority.
  • The populations of this public sector form, can be said to be unruly at times and in recent history inclined to be suspicious of Public Sector forms.
  • English speaking countries are good representative examples of this Form, though even within these there is a spectrum.

Centralized authority, strong decentralized authority with support of population

  • A central authority that is constitutionally or legally has constraints on its authority.
  • The central authority must work with a network of strong decentralized bodies (States) who retain rights that may conflict with the Central authority.
  • The populations of this public sector form, while they may have a level of suspicion, concepts of identity cards and papers have long been used.
  • The European Commission and the Member States of the European Union are a good representative example of this Form.

Strong centralized authority with support of population

  • A strong central authority that has the ‘final’ say on direction and policy.
  • This authority may delegate some responsibility to an elected body, but retains the right to overrule policy positions that may be put forward by this body.
  • The population in this form is typically supportive of the form, and moves in accordance with the direction central authority.
  • Examples of this form would be countries that retain a hereditary monarchy in regions such as, the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa.


  • A central authority who’s right and power is absolute.
  • This authority sets direction and policy based on its reasoning alone and is not subject to the demands of sharing power with subsidiary authorities.
  • Support (or lack of support) of the population is not considered. The authority has the coercive power and the willingness to use it to ensure its direction and policies are adhered to.

The desire to realize the benefits of digitalization through the adoption of forms of digital identity has been tried before today, and has seen at best marginal success and at worst total failure resulting in significant outlays of public expenditures (e.g., eIDAS v1, Gov.uk) and political embarrassment.

In this current cycle to realize the digital potential different ‘experiments’ are (or have been) tried. The Government of British Columbia in Canada started its journey with its Verifiable Organization Network, working with publicly available corporate documentation. In the European Union, under the eIDAS v2 regulation and European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) efforts are underway with use cases in Education and Travel and Tourism. The Government of Bhutan will shortly be launching its digital wallet and identity effort having issued its first digital identifier credentials to the Crown Price of Bhutan in March. Finally, in the US, the Department of Homeland Security is in the fourth year of a five-year process on developing a digital Green Card and Right to Work documentation.

Each of these programs have necessarily focused within their own ‘borders’ of the public sector form to develop, learn, and prepare. However, the full realization of digital potential requires interoperability between all jurisdictions.

In this panel discussion, we have representation from three of the four generalized forms of the public sector.


In preparation for the discussion please reflect on the following questions:

  1. In your respective public sector forms, how is public policy approaching the motivators of its citizenry and businesses to adopt and use digital wallets and identifiers?
  2. It is human nature to only want to share successes, but in reality, the learning and discovery process requires failures and ‘bumps in the road.’ What are the ‘redprints’[1] from your experiences and observations and what are the learnings gained from these?
  3. To realize the full potential of digital wallets and identity requires that interoperability between legal jurisdictions of digital credentials. How is jurisdictional interoperability being addressed within your respective regions? What programs are in place (or being put in place) to ensure interoperability?

Join us for the discussion: https://www.meetup.com/digital-identity-from-vienna/events/292993136/

Archives of prior meetups, links to recorded session videos, and notes.

[1] Redprints – the corollary of blueprints. Blueprints show you how to build something, redprints show you what didn’t work.

Blog at WordPress.com.