Estonia and the E-lectronic Revolution

It takes a special kind of government to realize when their country has an opportunity to do something great for its current and future citizens. After the fall of the Soviet Union Estonia declared its independence and was left with a blank slate with which they had ability to create a system of government and public services from the ground up. Around the same time internet use and interconnected databases were rapidly growing with new abilities to storage data digitally and community over online network. Estonia recognized the problems of both their former system of government and with current systems in other surrounding countries. None of those systems were good enough so they decided to create new system that would be both modern and plan for future advancements.

The new system of connected government data was built around the idea that the individual citizen is the owner of their own data. It was formed this way to in order to build trust. In other countries people have always been wary of what information the give out and who they give it to because they have little to no control over their own data once it has been released. In Estonia all information is stored in databases that are able to communicate with one another through network called the X-Road. Any and all information that is stored in the databases that are connected is both secured individually and all access is logged. The individual security systems mean that each database would need to be cracked individually even though the data can be shared through the X-Road. The access logging means that each citizen is able to see exactly who has requested their data, what type of data, and when it was accessed. This type of information would be extremely beneficial to people in the U.S. where systems like credit reporting are kept secret, criminal records are publicly available, and access in untracked. Even if information is public you should still know who is looking at it and why.

The biggest change that began the progress toward the modern connected government was the implementation of the chipped resident ID card. Initial adoption of the new card was slow so the government began adding services to the card other than just identification. Services such as buying metro passes, signing online with secure digital signatures, online voting, and taxes can be done using the ID card. The more services that are added there are more citizens that have adopted the card. There are two major benefits the digital signature. The first is that it reduces the cost of physical paper processing, saving which can be used elsewhere in the system to provide more benefits or to reduce taxes. The second is the drastic reduction in processing time. Taxes can be filed in as little as 3 minutes and a new business can be created in 18 minutes. Both of these benefits would translate to the U.S. very well if a proper digital signature were to be implemented. The paper cost savings would obviously be beneficial, but the reduction in processing time has the potential to create even more financial benefits. If citizens know that it only takes 3 minutes to file their taxes then why would anyone wait? The tax season could be greatly shorted and the government would have a better picture of its finances sooner each year which could lead to better fiscal responsibility. 18 minute business creation could drive the creation of new business development and increasing the number job available in the U.S. This is likely a major factor behind the rapidly increasing number of startup companies in Estonia and they desire to bring in talent from around the world.

Estonia has become a model in which many other countries can learn from. There are many challenges involved with bringing the Estonian system to countries with deep rooted legacies, but the future benefits will far outweigh the cost of any growing pains.