The European Self-Sovereign Identity Framework Lab (eSSIF-Lab) views itself as an ecosystem of parties that specify, develop, experiment with and validate technological and non-technological (e.g. governance) means that support people, businesses and governments (parties) to think about, design, adapt, and operate their (information) processes such that they can negotiate and conduct business transactions with one another using the electronic support provided by the various Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) technologies.
In its pursuit of this aim, eSSIF-Lab is developing a way of thinking and reasoning for the purpose of making it easier to determine what artifacts are needed, how to design them, etc. In the descriptions we provide, we use the eSSIF-Lab terminology as provided in the eSSIF-Lab Glossary. As the meaning of these terms has been carefully defined, they should not be interpreted in another way than as they are defined. Terms that are defined in the context of eSSIF-Lab are highlighted, and hovering over them shows you their definitions. If you want to dive deeper into the its meaning, just click it.
Context - the eSSIF-Lab World Model
The basic concepts that you as a reader need to be aware of in order to understand what the eSSIF-Lab vision and its framework are about, are those that describe the eSSIF-Lab world model, and constitute its context.
eSSIF-Lab sees the world (universe) as being filled with entities, i.e. things (people and animals included) that exist. Our world view is shaped by the distinctions that eSSIF-Lab makes as it classifies such entities into well-defined categories, each of which having specific characteristics.
One of the most fundamental categories is called party. A party (typical examples of which are organizations (governments, enterprises) and individual human beings) is defined as an entity that manages and uses its own knowledge autonomously. It is its own sovereign, i.e. within its scope of control, everything is guided by its own, subjective knowledge. This includes all decision making, execution of actions, risks, governance, etc., etc. We also postulate that every party has objectives that it pursues. A large part of its knowledge revolves about managing these objectives (which includes governance and risk management) and making sure they get realized.
While parties are their own (self-)sovereigns and in principle can do as they please, they live in a universe with many other parties, that are also 'self-sovereigns'. This means that they need to come to terms with one another as they have interactions with one another that may influence the knowledge of the participating parties, and have other consequences as well. Such transactions between parties is not only one of the focal points of this framework (see further down), but the reason we have created this framework.
Another fundamental category is called actor, which is defined as an entity that can act (do things). It is important to note that while some entity classes (e.g. human beings) qualify as both actors and parties, other entity classes do not (e.g. organizations, or robots). As an actor does something (executing an action), it uses the knowledge of one specific party as the main guidance for executing that action (it may use knowledge of other parties as well). We say that the actor executes that action on behalf of that party. Actors may execute different actions on behalf of different parties. It is a particular contribution of this framework that using it allows one to determine which actor executes what action on behalf of what party. This is particularly relevant in the context of two interacting/transacting parties. Further details are given in the party-actor-action pattern
A third fundamental category is called jurisdiction, which is a foundational concept for organizing collaborations between parties, e.g. in communities or ecosystems. Basically, a jurisdiction acts as an authority that has mechanisms for defining and maintaining rules, enforcement thereof, and a mechanism for resolving conflicts within its scope of control. More details can be found in the jurisdictions pattern.
In order to enable interactions between different parties, as described in the eSSIF-Lab vision, eSSIF-Lab focuses on the exchange and administration of relevant data, with a particular focus on the qualifications and other assurances that are provided and/or needed. This makes its results particularly relevant for administrative organizations such as governmental bodies, financial institutions and the like. However, every party will have use-cases in which it needs to (digitally) interact with other parties, so for them, the eSSIF-Lab work is relevant as well.
A party usually cannot realize its objectives on its own. To do this, it needs to get itself organized, e.g. by defining the kinds of actions that might help to further the objectives, purchasing/hiring actors to do the work, managing the policies that specify how such actors should operate (making the policies appropriately accessible and interpretable). We use the term governance to refer to the activities/process that gets a party organized. The governance activities that are in scope of eSSIF-Lab relate to specifying the work, and maintaining the associated artifacts, that is related to the needs of parties as they (digitally) interact with one another.
In the eSSIF-Lab world view, actors interact with each other (as agents for their principals) to negotiate and execute transactions. An agent uses the knowledge of its principal as its main guidance for such negotiations and execution. An agent may also use knowledge of other parties to fill in any gaps, or to provide additional details, as necessary.
The participants of a transaction are parties, that employ actors that do the associated work on their behalf. A party may employ different actors for executing different actions within a single transaction, each of which will use the knowledge of this party (its principal) to guide the execution of these actions, so that the entire transaction is performed according to how the party wants it to be done.
The DEMO transactions pattern (which is what we use) divides transactions in three phases:
- a negotiation phase, in which one or more agents of each participant exchange data for the purpose of establishing a contract that specifies what the transaction entails. This phase results either in a commitment decision of all participants, or the termination of the transaction because one of them quits.
- an execution phase, in which (perhaps other) agents of the same principals work (execute actions) to fulfill the obligations of the agreement. This phase results in them stating that they have completed that work (or that they gave up).
- the acceptance phase, in which one or more agents of each participant exchange data that leads to a decision to accept the results, or to escalate (e.g. start a lawsuit against the other participant)
The background of the eSSIF-Lab vision can be found in articles 8-10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), that state the rights of individuals regarding their privacy, and their freedoms to collect, process, store, and express information in a self-sovereign fashion, i.e. in a way that they can decide for themselves. This is without prejudice to Member States' laws that exist to protect their national security, public safety, the economic well-being of the country, health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, or to prevent disorder or crime. The eSSIF-Lab vision extends these rights and freedoms - within the limits of the law - to public and private organizations. Thus, we say that individuals as well as public and private organizations (that we collectively refer to as 'parties') are self-sovereign.
In the context of these rights and freedoms, we seek to electronically support business transactions, i.e. the exchange of goods, services, funds, or data between parties, which we call 'participants' to the transaction.
Supporting such transactions requires each participant to have one or more electronic (digital) agents, i.e. equipment (e.g. an app on a mobile phone, a webserver, a browser, …) that provides such support and that (provably) acts on behalf of that participant.