Want to Ditch Social Security Numbers? Try Blockchain!

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In the wake of the huge Equifax data breach, which compromised the personal information of 145.5 million U.S. consumers, the Trump administration asked federal departments and agencies to do something bold: Come up with a new identity system that does not rely on overexposed and octogenarian Social Security numbers.

Other countries already enjoy just this kind of society in which there’s no unique nine-digit number that holds the key to anyone’s economic identity. The problem might not be imagining a world without Social Security numbers but surveying other systems to pick, and perhaps adapt, the best ones. “The U.S. doesn’t have to totally reinvent the wheel here,” said Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, a think tank. 

Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, suggested at a recent conference in Washington that an improved system might involve technologies such as a “modern cryptographic identifier.” And in fact other countries already embrace blockchain and biometrics as backbones for government and private-sector systems. Often these tools are used in tandem with other authentication techniques to verify a citizen’s identity, provide easy access to services, and keep a permanent record of interactions. Whether these technologies now gaining momentum will prove enough protection against future cyberattacks will be the story to watch over the next few years...