Technology innovation constantly challenges law to meet the needs of today’s society.  If we rely solely on law to solve the problems of refugees, justice will be delayed. Why?  With the refugee crisis reaching a feverish level in the United States, laws are aspirational from the refugees’ point of view, and US state sovereignty ‘trumps’ any of these aspirations. Citizen pushback, as massive as it is, can only provide very limited legal impact for refugees: (1) finding lawyers to connect to refugees one to one to enter an antiquated court system and make a case for asylum. Resolution of these cases takes years for an unknown resolution; and (2) forcing the executive to modify his draconian executive orders.
      Can blockchain technology make a difference?  Can it empower refugees in ways that have never been considered before? And, help create a legal world that will challenge lawyers to meet the needs of society in new and better ways? Here’s my take on blockchain and identity:

      Peace building activity in any region stimulates economic growth, which is directly linked to increased employment and prosperity. Historically, these types of projects have worked positively to encourage infrastructure development, including building roads, electrical grids/plants, and railways.

       Today, however, “peace-building” is manipulated and distorted by major world powers. The method by which China, the EU and the US have financed such ‘infrastructure’ projects in Africa is questionable. It is debatable whether or not their activities intend on ‘peace building’ as claimed, or rather gaining a foothold to control the natural resources that a continent such as Africa contains. The size and implications of these projects proves that they are political in nature, and leaves central decisions at a state to state level. Fortunately, there is a definite solution capable of resolving these issues. Today, new technologies create an opportunity for peace building to take place on an interpersonal level. How? Connecting people everywhere with a new form of digital identity that is trusted, secure and foundational for economic activity.  

      Nearly half the world relies upon a broken identity system based on physical credentials issued by governments and other ‘trusted’ third parties (eg- schools, employers, religious institutions, banks, etc). The identity system is broken into time and time again by hackers, who act swiftly without fear of consequences.  The very half of the world that relies upon these identity systems are trapped with them, because institutions – banks, governments, and corporations –  that still rely upon them for all type of economic activity, won’t let go.

Changing one’s identity may appear difficult, but most definitely possible, especially for that half of the world that lives without the most basic forms of identity (ie. birth certificates). With creativity, new technologies can be harnessed on a person-to-person level to create trust, a foundation for peace.  

As Larry Bridgesmith, chief education strategist for ODEM, a blockchain technology company has stated, “At the intersection of people and technology, ODEM, the world’s first On-Demand Education Marketplace, is partnering with the Internet Bar Organization to deploy blockchain technology to help address the plight of displaced the Rohingya people of Southeast Asia.

      In a refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh at least 700,000 Rohingya have congregated after being driven from their homes in neighboring Myanmar… In many cases, their professional identities and credentials were lost, confiscated, or left behind…

      ODEM and the IBO are working to use blockchain technology to establish, verify and securely store the identities of the refugees. Blockchain is a system of digital ledgers that allow for records, data and transactions to be both secure and shareable. Cooperation between ODEM and the Houston-based IBO is a first step toward establishing identities for people around the world who’ve essentially become invisible. By using verifiable-claim technology and digital wallets in conjunction with smartphones, people with re-established identities can begin to reclaim their dignity and their livelihoods.

      For the Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar, regaining their identities is a necessity, not a luxury. Eager to begin building a digital foundation for the future, the Rohingya need verified identities now…”

      Despite all the potential for positive engagement and connection that these new identity systems bring, the legal profession may be concerned that they will create an entirely unknown justice system. As new systems allow parties to engage in transactions and resolve disputes directly with each other, the need for traditional lawyers decreases.  Will the legal profession try to hold back the adoption of these new systems?  Suffice it to argue here that the notion of verifying claims of identity can be translated into an entire line of potential new business for lawyers ready to enter the 21st century’s legal frameworks. One could start by understanding how this new blockchain environment will change law.