Opinion | Why we need a blockchain-based Social Security number

Blockchain technology offers a practical solution to solve a massive looming problem

There are a number of failed old technologies which we live with every day. Some are jokes (such as the story that train tracks are based on Roman war chariots), but some are real,like the fact that social security numbers (SSN) were created in 1936 exclusively track of earnings.

Since 1936, Social Security numbers have been adapted to be a unique identifier for each person in the U.S. This number is used to open bank accounts, track credit history, apply for employment, apply for security clearances, etc.

The number is often issued at significant moments for an applicant—around birth or entry into the United States, for instance—and usually never changes for a person. It is used on a nearly all official paperwork. The SSN is easy to steal and there’s little one can do once it has gone into the wild other than go through a very lengthy, difficult, and costly process to get a new one. And since the numbers are currently half used up (450 million numbers have been issued out of 1 billion), they will eventually have no choice but to reuse them or add more digits, which can potentially create a “Year 2000”-type problem down the road.

Yet there’s a solution thanks to the blockchain technological revolution.

One critical aspect of blockchains is that they are specialized databases allowing software system architects to shape the design and usage behavior, enforce security patterns, and guarantee compatibility across many systems.

With a blockchain you get a series of near-infinite unique numbers. Numbers can be changed or reassigned easily, yet retain the full history of previous events. For that reason, a stolen number would be a non-issue. Numbers can come with authentication codes that would never be available through a form so stealing and using numbers would be impossible. One could even issue a new unique SSN for each individual use and sign it with the public certificate of the second party making it so no one else can use it. Storing these in any database will no longer be considered “sensitive information” and require special treatment, making the entire country more secure and its citizens safer from cyber crimes.

What’s more, there’s nothing stopping one from making all the identity documents center around this new SSN-2.0: passport, driver’s license, health records, education records, digital signatures. Government would become far more efficient in processing information and the quality and reliability of information would go up significantly. Using same methods, one can track every time information is accessed and by whom. It is a more secure method for those who value their privacy, be it from thieves, government snooping, or a combination of both.

There are countries presently exploring or have already found solutions for a national identity number relying on encryption. Estonia has been making huge strides in creating an economy around their digital national ID. Along with other forward looking technology-facing policies, it has created a huge economic boom for the country.

The World Economic Forum has started to look into this as well. I know firsthand because they tried to hire me for this recently.

This is a hot area which will have winners and losers. I just hope we can stay ahead of the masses on this one as I feel it will eventually become how we measure the advancement of a 21st century country.

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Alex Rass is CEO of ITBS, a New York-based IT group operating worldwide, an industry leader focused on cloud development, blockchain, cybersecurity, systems integration and automation. Its client list includes, Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Prudential and ETS. Alex has 20 years of experience in information technology.