Elizabeth Renieris has resigned from the ID2020 Alliance, and penned a scathing critique of the organization on her way out the door. She specifically argues that the Alliance’s original objectives have been compromised by corporate interests, and that the organization is now so fixated on digital identities that it is willing to sacrifice civil liberties to accomplish its aims.
“At this stage, I can no longer even describe what ID2020’s mission is with any confidence,” wrote Renieris in her resignation letter. “All I can perceive is a desire to promote decentralized identity solutions at all costs.”
Renieris is a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and previously served as one of six members of the Alliance’s technical advisory committee. She took issue with the organization’s approach to immunity credentials in response to COVID-19. While ID2020 has emphasized the need for privacy in a recent white paper, Renieris suggests that the creation of such credentials would represent a significant threat to people’s civil rights, and claims that that paper was itself illustrative of the problems within the organization.
In that regard, Renieris notes that an earlier draft of the white paper referenced the Covid Credentials Initiative and Microsoft’s blockchain efforts as a potential solution to privacy concerns. However, the citations were removed after Renieris questioned their inclusion, and she believes the finished paper does not adequately address the unique technology risks present in blockchain solutions.
Renieris also questioned the decision to frame the document as an official ID2020 paper. She was told that it would be published as the individual perspective of ID2020 Executive Director Dakota Gruener, and not the organization as a whole.
“I cannot be part of an organization overly influenced by commercial interests that that only pays lip service to human rights,” wrote Renieris. “The stakes are simply too high at this stage.”
Microsoft is an Alliance partner, and several members of the ID2020 Board have ties to the technology giant. In its response, the company highlighted its work with the Decentralized Identity Foundation, and claimed that it is deliberately trying to avoid exercising the kind of influence that Renieris describes in her letter.
“Microsoft has been working to lay the groundwork for an open standards-based identity system,” said Microsoft Identity Program Management VP Alex Simons. “A key tenet of this effort is designing the system so that no single company or organization, including Microsoft, owns or controls it. To be trusted, we believe the system has to be inherently decentralized.”
Several companies have already put forth technology for immunity credentials, though the WHO has urged caution and stressed that COVID-19 antibodies may not guard against future infection. Gruener reiterated that any credentialing system would need strong privacy safeguards to avoid doing undue harm.