The evolution of digital identity


Linum Labs recently announced the results of a blockchain-based pilot digital identity project in collaboration with SBB, the Swiss Federal Railway. The project, that ran from May to November 2018, aimed to explore the usage of blockchain in record-keeping that can provide business value. 



Swiss Regulation

Train accidents are often linked to human errors/malpractice on railway tracks. Consequently, the idea of this project stemmed from the Swiss government requirement to track workers who have worked on the railway tracks as well as their certifications. Although it might seem a simple matter, this obligation was proven to be a complex condition. As of now, multiple parties, employees or companies, are involved in the inspection processes of the railways, some even still utilize paper for record-keeping. These practices create complexities and inefficiencies with records tracking not only inspections made on the railways but also certifications of employees conducting the works. The inspection records that should be linked to an individual’s identity are the perfect case for a decentralized identity pilot, an opportunity for blockchain use cases.

Project Overview

To maintain their railway tracks, SBB employ thousands of workers across Switzerland. This includes not only SBB employees, but contractors with a variety of backgrounds and skills. All of these workers are required to have proper certifications and need to be medically fit to execute specific tasks. The company should also be able to track the on-duty workers on a given date at a particular site, which can become a difficult task. This challenge is very suitable for a blockchain solution. Blockchain technology was selected to enable easy interoperability between different parties. It means that each employee will carry their own identity and can work from one company to another, without the need of a central organization to manage their credentials.

How does the pilot project assign a digital identity to each employee? The project uses uPort,  an open identity system that allows users to register their own identity on Ethereum. uPort was proven to be a robust tool during its usage on the first non-binding trial blockchain based vote in the City of Zug. With the use of uPort, workers, inspectors, and supervisors would receive their unique digital ID which was linked to an identity on the blockchain. Further, check-in/check-out activities were hashed and published to the blockchain.

How does it work? Each user will require to download the uPort mobile app and registers his/her own identity on the Ethereum blockchain. The user can then scan a QR code with the associated city that issues his/her certificates to prove his/her digital blockchain credentials. Once completed, the certifications will be linked to his/her uPort ID. From supervisors’ point of view, on-site supervisors can easily verify his/her qualifications to work on a site and use check-in/check-out feature to track time spent on the location. For the employee, he/she can generate log entries (in and out) by using QR code. These entries would then be hashed and published on the blockchain making them tamper-proof.


There are some challenges with using uPort as a base system for this project. The architecture of blockchain that is immutable will not comply with the new European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented in May 2018. GDPR regulates that individuals have a “right to be forgotten” which means that their data can be removed from the public domain at their consent. By using blockchain, the users have lost their right to revoke their data on the public domain.

Furthermore, the pilot project was executed on a small scale. When a larger scale pilot project is desired, the system will not work on a phone due to storage issue. uPort is reported to look into creating a storage hub to resolve this issue.

What’s next?

The blockchain technology enables an alternative solution in dealing with organizational issues such as when multiple companies involve in a specific project. This project, for example, could be used for any types of organization in verifying credentials and reducing inefficiencies. However, the existing regulatory requirement from GDPR might spark a debate upon the usage of the blockchain technology. Moreover, technical challenges might arise from the current uPort’s architecture due to storage issue. As this project is still at a very early stage, it will be interesting to see how this project will evolve in the future. 



Javier Bilbao