One of the key features of the Trellis platform is sovereign data transactions across the supply chain. The word sovereignty might draw up images of data breaches and complicated passwords. But sovereignty applies to many sectors of life beyond data: history, politics, religion, philosophy. This article is an exploration of sovereignty in the broader sense, and how it relates to our lives right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upon tackling such a large topic, let me first say that this in no way is attempting to give any answers or solve any problems, but rather to inspect what’s around us and to offer questions for each of us to ponder in our own individual way, drawing our own conclusions.
Whether we’re talking about national or political sovereignty, personal or identity sovereignty, religious or spiritual sovereignty, we will continue to come back to these three key concepts: Power. Free Will. Trust. Depending on our personal value system, these aspects rate differently on the importance spectrum.
WHAT IS SOVEREIGNTY?
Sovereignty, according to Wikipedia, is “the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.”
Perhaps the word that leaves the most room for interpretation here is “interference”. If an outside source, against our will, tries to impose their views, clearly that is interference. But what if we ask a trusted advisor for advice, is that interference? If we yield our decisions to a delegate to make one specific decision for us, is that interference? I would argue that the answers to these questions will be different for each individual. It depends on how much they value free will. And how much they trust in others and in themselves.
When we know there are many choices but they are not our choices to make, we do not have sovereignty. But what if there are many choices and we don’t want to be the one to make them? If it’s our choice to delegate authority elsewhere, are we giving away our sovereignty? Or are we still sovereign since we make the empowered choice not to choose. This can be asked in terms of business, personal life, and spirituality. For example, one major philosophical debate all through time is about the sovereignty of God and how that relates to free will. Regardless of where on the spectrum of that debate your beliefs fall, it’s important to distinguish that, to be sovereign, at least the illusion of free will is required. If the choice you make is to give the choice to God, or your spouse, or your boss, or the president, are you then giving away your sovereignty?
And if so, is sovereignty something worth sacrificing for a good cause? If the good cause matches your values, would you be sacrificing your sovereignty? At what point do you keep the reins in your own hands, and at what point do you pass them off to a delegate driver?
SOVEREIGNTY AS IT RELATES TO COVID-19
COVID-19 is unique in terms of personal sovereignty, because it is so contagious that the simple act of breathing can do harm to another.
In the west where we are “free”, we are accustomed to have constitutional rights that maintain our freedom. John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle has been one of the most influential political principles on classical liberalism. The harm principle states that the only reason to restrict the action of another individual is “to prevent harm to others”. If someone is harming themselves, you are only justified in attempting to persuade them.
So in the case of our current pandemic, ‘attempting to persuade them’ may look like not allowing people to be within breathing distance from one another. Given the risks related to COVID-19, authorities have issued orders for our health and safety in a more extreme way than most of us have seen in our lifetime.
Those not observing stay at home orders might make that choice because they place a lot of importance on their sovereignty. I hear people say they do not accept that someone else is reigning over them, threatening their civil liberties, that they are unable to exert their free will; they feel that they have no sovereignty in this situation.
Of those who are observing stay at home orders, probably the majority have values which already line up with the reasons for the orders, therefore their freedom and their free will do not feel threatened. They trust the law because they agree with the law. Staying home is what they would have done anyway. Sovereignty intact. In fact, in many cases, sovereignty is not even part of their thought process.
The most successful “stay at home” campaigns (or any campaign for that matter) are when the message appeals to the values of the individual. Those who most value protecting and saving vulnerable lives are those who obey. But arguably, not because they are the most obedient, but because the actions they take are exemplifying their personal sense of sovereignty. They choose to shelter in place through their free will, even though an authority figure is ordering it. Humans (especially Americans) want the opportunity to exert their own agency to decide whether to obey; that way they maintain their free will and their sense of power.
SOVEREIGNTY & DATA PRIVACY
Another example of how sovereignty is a concern during COVID-19 times, is relating to how we are using GPS locations to track people’s movement. Through tracking this movement, we can arguably enforce that people stay safely at home. Sharing location data with authorities may be an effective precautionary measure to protect others. The more information we have, the more we can use it to make sense, in a new world of uncertainty. The more we can protect each other. For those whose values line up with sharing data, their free will is intact, they can even feel empowered to share with trusted sources. Sovereign.
On the flip side, some people strongly value personal privacy. That could be because they do not trust the people who receive their information, perhaps they do not trust that tracking us can keep us safer, or they do not feel like they had a choice whether they were tracked or not. GPS tracking may leave them feeling as if their sovereignty is threatened. They may feel less safe, not more safe. Again; lacking trust, free will, and power.
There is the privacy concern of tracking in general. Another concern is that GPS data may be resold, and used against our permission for unknown purposes beyond our health and safety.
Digital information, because for the most part it is centralized, means the data lives in one place and can be copied and can travel exponentially, so we can quickly lose sight of where it went and who has access to it.
As sovereignty relates to the information that may be floating around in cyberspace, trust is a key component. Whether we care or don’t care what information gets into whose hands, it can still be argued that we trust less on the internet than we do in real life amongst people we know.
Life is more pleasant when we can trust each other. Transactions and exchanges, and movement of every kind is better when we are in a full state of trust.
In some cases, what we don’t trust is the unknown. A stranger asking to borrow your phone, an email from an unknown sender, whether the ground is level when you’re walking in total darkness. That’s a survival instinct. What if you tap the darkness around you only to discover with the tip of your toe that you’re at the edge of a cliff? Good thing you didn’t trust your surroundings. You probably only trust what you know or what is verified by someone or something you trust. If your friend is guiding you, saying ‘take two steps forward then stop’, you will be more likely to follow her suggestions and less likely to die if you trust her. But will you be sovereign if you will be relying on her eyes in your blindness?
For the sake of simplicity, let’s talk about data just in terms of your account number that will allow you to transfer funds for a purchase. That’s sensitive data that probably everyone wants to keep secure and trust it only to the authorized person you are making the trade with.
The internet brought a lot more freedom to trade globally, and also a lot more anonymity. Humans are more likely to do the right thing when our identity, or our reputation is on the line. The internet made it possible to not even bring our identity with us when we trade, so though trading goes up, trust goes down.
So how can we continue to trade globally, sometimes anonymously, while keeping our data safe and sovereign?
HOW TO SHARE DATA WHILE REMAINING SOVEREIGN
Why seek sovereignty? Arguably, we seek sovereignty so we don’t have to trust each other.
One solution to trade sensitive information online, is to automate the process of trust. This is one of the benefits of storing information on blockchains. By decentralizing and distributing the information, we can allow it to only be seen by those verified who have permissions to see it.
What if we could eliminate the need for trusting anyone, while staying safe (not falling off the cliff), and maintaining our sovereignty (not needing a third party to ensure your safety)? This is called zero knowledge proof.
“By giving permission and basically allowing [someone] to have sovereignty over [their] own data…provides a means to communicate in a way that doesn’t require trust from any of the individual participants, but enables trusted interaction to occur anyway.” (Forbes)
Millions of people transact on Paypal because they are a company that “verifies” transactions. Their reputation and brand are on the line to provide trust to the buyer that he will get his goods, and to the seller that she will get her payment. In this situation, you are the person walking in the dark, and Paypal is your friend that makes sure you don’t fall off the cliff. If we can automate that verification without needing any company to be the trust, then the person walking in the dark can remain sovereign, and ensure they do not walk off the cliff. Best of both worlds.
But sovereignty isn’t the most important thing to everyone. Some people are fine allowing the third party to help them stay on the ground. This is not an article trying to change anyone’s mind about what they value. But for those who are in a situation where they feel threatened or lacking in free will, trust or power; where your sovereignty lies relating to that situation might be something worth inspecting for you.