The rush of the US towards backwardness can be breathtaking. First, I read in the news that Donald Trump’s FCC voted to repeal a 2015 regulation that prohibited broadband companies from blocking or slowing access to websites or services. Then I discover that the State Department’s Office of International Communications and Information Policy does not offer any new material other than what is in the Obama administration archive!
The retrograde developments in the US got me curious and drew me to that universal wellspring of knowledge – the Google search bar – to find out which are the most high tech countries in the world. I came across the Networked Readiness Index rankings as a way to gauge the ability of countries to innovate in a digital economy. At the top of the list are the usual suspects – the US, Germany, UK, Japan, Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, etc. However, two names stood out for me – Luxembourg at No. 9 and Estonia at No. 22. The latter, especially since I even had to check a map to be sure where in Eastern Europe it was exactly.
And what a find Estonia turns out to be!
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia methodically and purposefully sought to develop a Unique Selling Point (USP) while at the same time upgrading government services to its 1 million or so inhabitants. The government pushed for ICT education for its citizens and issued a ID card with a chip, a pin code and a USB reader that in combination forms the digital identity of the citizen. It is also the primary means to receive online services conveniently following a “once only” policy which dictates that no single piece of information should be encoded twice.
Today, citizens can vote from their laptops, challenge parking tickets from home, buy a house or apply for a loan and have the system pull their data—income, debt, savings—as may be required. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. This year, the average Estonian takes only three minutes to complete his tax declarations.
Estonia has managed to offer integrated government services with the safest, privacy friendliest system ever. It is no surprise that it is recognized as the Champion of Europe for the online provision of public services. The transparent, no-contact public service has allowed the country to rise to No. 22 out of 176 countries in the 2016 Global Corruption Index of Transparency International. In comparison, the Philippines is no. 101. The government estimates that it has also saved 2% of GDP in foregone salaries and operations costs.
Be a Virtual Estonian Citizen
In December 2014, Estonia had an idea that not only Estonian inhabitants, but everyone in the world, should be able to use the country’s digital infrastructure. For €100, anybody over 18 years can acquire e-Residency from over 200 locations worldwide. With your card and pin code you’re granted access to Estonia’s user interface and you’ll receive a digital authorization tool. Your e-Residency gives you access to European payment providers, allows you to start your company digitally, provides you with various financial and technological tools. You can close a deal using a smart contract, for instance.
The day following the launch, 4 thousand persons from 150 countries had already subscribed. To date, there are 28 thousand e-Residents – secure in the thought that the backbone of Estonia’s digital security is a blockchain technology called K.S.I.
Estonia believes that their e-Residency project will evolve into something significant as more location independent businesses are born. In April 2016, Estonia flippantly launched the website ‘Country OS’. The site describes the country as a service subscription as follows:
Revolutionary cloud-based country management tool for modern tech-based countries. Get your country management efficiency to a whole new level.
I just can’t wait to outsource our government …..