UnPassport is the first creations coming from the iNation team. While they share members with the Blockchain Factory, unPassport is set to be the first released under the iNation banner.
I have talked to them in the past, for CoinTelegraph, but with the technology coming together and a public beta release set for October, we thought it was worth sitting down and talking to them about unPassport one more time before the release.
UnPassport is designed to, you guess it, allow customers to backup their passport in a cryptographically secure, distributed way, accessible from anywhere in the world. The plan isn’t to backup the entire passport including every entry stamp. Instead, they are following the State Department’s guidelines that the first few pages are sufficient for a backup. It should be noted that unPassport uses the new IPFS hypermedia protocol, and not the bitcoin blockchain.
While no one has actually tested the system by actually going through the process of starting a lost passport claim and using the unPassport passport backup, they believe that it will work and are in the process of working with various travel agencies and document verification companies to further ensure that it will be accepted as a valid backup.
The use case is pretty obvious. Lose your passport while traveling and, instead of keeping a photocopy on you that you could also lose, you will be able to access it through any PC and be able to prove that is actually an unmodified copy of your passport.
On October 30 the public beta will launch. Then the real test will begin. People all around the world, potentially, will be uploading their passports, losing their original and finding out first hand if their government of choice will honor a digital image or a print out of a digital image.
Instinctively, it would seem there would be some resistance, but after deeper inspection there is no reason why they shouldn’t. It would be incorrect to contend that unPassport will take the hassle out of losing an important document like a passport. That would be impossible. Losing it, especially overseas will always be a hassle. There won’t be a time, at least not in this decade, where you could lose your passport overseas and not have to visit an embassy.
Having a simple photocopy of a passport can help streamline the process slightly, but only in that it will help you fill out forms. What really moves things along, – US travelers at least – is a certified copy. Getting a certified copy is a archaic practice, but it has to be in order to ensure people can’t simply steal Passports and then request a certified copy.
Travelers wanting a certified copy have to go to a certified notary with their passport, another form of government ID and a personally written note. After notarization, the traveler has to send it all to the State Department and pay a fee. Armed with a Certified Copy of a passport from the US State Department reportedly moves things along quicker. Sitting between the two is a notarized copy, which is a photocopy notarized by a public notary and not the State Department itself.
It isn’t clear where unPassport’s will sit on this spectrum. They will accept customers world wide but they are building relationships primarily in North America to begin, starting with a few US states and maybe a Canadian city of province before branching out.
But anyone can use the service, and it will at least be as effective as a simple photocopy. Each user’s mileage will depend on their local government’s policy. The hope is that some governments will realize a cryptographically provable time stamp is more, not less, difficult to forge than a notary’s stamp. However, government policies tend to move slowly. In locales where the partnerships have been formed, unPassport hopes to combine both traditional notaries and cryptography.
But even every approach is rejected by government officials, it would still beat traveling with a simple photocopy of your passport.
I sat down with Nathan Wosnack, the co-founder and CCO of iNation, to ask him about the progress made on unPassport since we last talked. Their CIO Matt McKibbin was there to, but he didn’t talk much.
Ian DeMartino: So, unPassport, I understand that users can now upload the first few pages of their passport. Any caveats with that?
Nathan Wosnack: From our understanding, the US State Department and other government jurisdictions require travelers to have the first couple pages of their passports copied as a record for travel. Some countries may require only the first page, others the first two or three.
unPassport makes it much easier. Unpassport uses a distributed storage technology to back up and securely your your data in multiple areas, encrypted. Once you upload your data a “hash” (or fingerprint) is created and stored in a persistent fashion so you are protected against fraudulent versions of your passport being uploaded.
So our site has some restrictions with regards to how many pages can be uploaded. Our trial version allows a traveler to upload the minimum, which is three pages on a five day trial, but more for paid yearly plans for individuals and families.
ID: How much do you expect a yearly plan to cost?
NW: A basic plan is $19.95/US per year. Allowing travelers to upload up to 5 documents and 10 modifications to their passport data per year.
ID: So, they upload their documents to you, then you guys do it, destroy the copy and send them the hash, or how does the process work?
NW: Once a client uploads their document to the site, a hash is automatically created via our vendor BlockCypher and the blockchain transaction is available via chain.so (Block.io vendor). A file signature is also created. The actual file is automatically encrypted and stored in a distributed manner via IPFS – A new peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol.
So, if for any reason our business ceases to exist one day, the data is always available via these IPFS nodes and the hash as well.
Matt McKibbin: To add to the service we are building relationships with expedited passport services to potentially provide a layer of verification for the authenticity of the backup.
ID: Obviously Passports are the focus but are there any restrictions on what kind of documents can be uploaded?
NW: We do restrict file types at the moment, and while we cannot stop people from uploading non-passport data due to the pages automatically being encrypted for their protection and privacy, the Terms of Service for our company specify it is intended for passports.
ID: Have you tried testing it? By that, I mean has anyone at unPassport walked into a DMV and told them they lost their passport?
NW: We haven’t had an opportunity to do that yet.
The way it goes now, if you lose your passport and you have a copy of it photocopied or perhaps on a phone/icloud you can more easily get a new one without any issues. unPassport adds another layer to it by instituting blockchain technology to it for document veracity purposes.
ID: And, I’d assume, a bit more security than depending on Apple etc.?
NW: More security and with privacy in place. As you know Apple suffered some serious security breaches with iCloud over the last year or so which caused some embarrassment for celebrities and citizens. Security and privacy is one of our top priorities which is why we’ve been very careful about not releasing this to the public too soon. Our back-end infrastructure needs to be rock-solid and of course scalable enough to handle new clients.
We have a timeline in place at the iNation site and our goal is for October 30th for a beta release for the public to start testing.
We do have early testers in place for our MVP, but we strongly specify, as a disclaimer, that it is a test-net only and it is not recommended people upload their passport data to it just yet.
ID: So lets say I need to retrieve my passport copy, what is the process like?
NW: You as a client/traveler would simply log onto the site, and use the cryptographic public key they were issued and enter it onto the management portal for the data to be properly retrieved and decrypted from where it is stored on IPFS.
ID: You guys keep the private key on your end?
NW: Yes we will have that in multi-signature cold storage much like one would have for hosting Bitcoin wallet data.
ID: Do you have two-factor authentication?
NW: For our MVP in testing we do not, however that will be built into our beta and stable version once it is released for obvious security reasons.
ID: Is there any way the user can hold the private keys himself or herself?
NW: We need to work out the implementation details of that, but for now we’re in discussions about those details. Certainly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to allow users to hold their own private keys themselves.
ID: So, post launch, what other use cases do you see coming about with document storage on the blockchain?
NW: The first one that comes to mind are the recording of deeds data for the title industry, and for individual home owners. As well as having document storage of things like marriage certificates. As you have seen with the controversy in the US surrounding gay marriage, states like Alabama and Mississippi are looking to opt out of issuing marriage licenses altogether. Political opinions on this aside, this opens up some great opportunity for individuals to potentially have private marriages in those states and put the records of that data on distributed systems, like the iNation platform with the use of blockchain technology.
The blockchain could act as a replacement to these archaic, and poorly managed centralized systems by the government. Education certificates could also be registered on the blockchain and a system can be created that acts as a form of verification by higher learning institutions, or a way to have a more affordable issuance for those looking to get education records for an employer or another university. I have a friend who tried getting their community college education records for the university they enrolled in, and were told to pay nearly $700 for this. I imagine a decentralized system using the blockchain and a distributed protocol like IPFS to be more efficient and cost-effective.
Our goal is to have a robust system in place that has no potential points of failure. Especially if we want to allow users to be able to manage their passport data indefinitely with the decentralization afforded by IPFS and distributed ledger technology.
ID: $700? That sounds high. I don’t think I paid anything when I asked my college for transcripts. Still, I can see the advantage there.
NW: That sounds high to me as well. Most definitely.
ID: Anything else coming out of Blockchain Factory we should know about?
Nathan Wosnack: Blockchain Factory is still working on some pending contracts for our Mining Slicer software with a couple of larger mining firms. The iNation team is working directly with Equibit for the development of their global peer to peer over the counter platform, and we’re also in talks with a supply chain management company to build a blockchain-based e-marketplace and supply chain management system.
An announcement will be made shortly regarding iNation, which as a brand will focus on consumers, and the other side of our business (not called iNation – a new brand we’ll be discussing publicly soon) to be specifically B2B (Business to Business).
ID: Anything I left out that you want to talk about?
NW: Nothing else, other than we’re all really excited about the progress – albeit incremental – our team (with a newly assembled technical team) and advisers are making with our private clients, the conferences we’re attending to get the word out about blockchain technology. We can’t wait to share more news as it unfolds. We recommend for those interested in learning more to visit our site at www.ination.io.