Personal information? Put them in the data vault


The September Declaration of the Flemish government refers to a ‘data utility’. That company will work on a new way of dealing with citizens’ data, among other things. This approach is based on a project by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web.

Flanders excels in biotech, which is now increasingly the case for data tech. That was the message from Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) on Monday during a virtual theme day about Solid, a system of digital data safes that should enable citizens and businesses to regain control of their own data.

Technically, Solid consists of standards that make the exchange of information run smoothly. It is based on old trusted web technology.

My Citizen Profile

With My Citizen Profile, a test version of the system is already running, in which the personal data of Flemish citizens are managed in their own Solid safe. During the study day, it was demonstrated how such a safe can be used in setting up an accounting office. Certificates, identity documents and bank certificates are stored in the safe. Then they are exchanged with, for example, the notary.

Citizens will not immediately notice that the underlying technology is Solid, but next year they will be able to store their account numbers in My Citizen Profile that way. This is very important, for example, in order to get premiums paid quickly, said General Administrator Barbara Van Den Haute of Information Flanders. The technology will also be used for adding e-mail addresses. For further applications it is still unclear when they will come.

Nevertheless, Solid can also make life easier for companies. ‘Think of construction companies that need a lot of certificates,’ says Van Den Haute.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and founder of Solid, applauded the Flemish efforts. “You get it,” he said. ‘The government understands the concept, Ghent University and the imec research center are at the top.’

Instead of collecting as much data as possible, let us work with the data that citizens make available to us.

Ruben Verborgh

Professor UGent

Professor Ruben Verborgh of Ghent University is working closely with Berners-Lee on the development of Solid. ‘Let us do innovation in a different way. Instead of collecting as much data as possible, let us work with the data that the citizens make available to us. ‘

Telecom, banks and media

There may be different providers of data storage. Citizens and companies can thus choose the supplier of their digital safes. There may also be a certification by the government, to provide some certainty about the soundness of the solutions offered.

Telecom companies, retailers, banks and media, in turn, can store data in vaults under the control of users, who can check who has access to which data.

During the study afternoon, the implications were investigated in various sectors. VRT CEO Frederik Delaplace said that data and artificial intelligence are of great importance in delivering the right content to the right person, in the fight against disinformation and in the pursuit of ‘broadening the taste’. The BBC is already experimenting with Solid for the management of user profiles.

In the mobility and health sectors, data is also of crucial importance and at the same time very sensitive.

In the coming years, many issues still need to be resolved regarding responsibility, security and guaranteeing the authenticity of data. Solid is well placed to become the reference. But even if that were not the case, the ideas behind the brainchild of Berners-Lee remain guiding, according to Van Den Haute.

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