Arnaud Castaignet

Ascending From Rebels to the Cloud: Estonia

This article is written by Mohammad Eslim, a Contributor Author at Startup Istanbul.

Estonia is a country in Northern Europe, borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. Including more than 1,500 islands, its diverse terrain spans rocky beaches, old-growth forest and many lakes. The capital, Tallinn, is known for its preserved Old Town, museums and the 314m-high Tallinn TV Tower, which has an observation deck. Estonia’s Population is about 1.316 million which is small but is still increasing according to the recent readings.

What I am getting more into isn’t all revolving about the historic or geographic information about Estonia, I am going to be talking about the big movement of a change the country had since 1991 to this day. I smell a slight hint of history, even though I don’t mind I certainly don’t know about you all!

Estonia was as normal as a country can be after the dissolution of the Soviet Union on the 8th of December 1991; the country’s economy was so bad the country was declared bankrupt, very poor infrastructure, there was no administration and what was more challenging is that its area is small, not smaller than Luxemburg, with one million inhabitants that needed an infrastructure to serve them.  

Fortunately, the country’s revolution in 1991 coincided with the digital revolution. Since then, they first started designing the new infrastructure to rebuild the destroyed one and after that everything seemed to start being done digitally.

It has been a long journey of 20 years and is still rolling until it becomes achieved fully. They started with the e-Tax boards in 2000. E-tax is the electronic tax filing system set up by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board. Each year, around 95 percent of all tax declarations in Estonia are filed electronically. Using a secure ID, a taxpayer logs onto the system, reviews their data in pre-filled forms, makes any necessary changes, and approves the declaration form. The process typically takes three to five minutes.

By 2002, Estonia founded the Digital ID card. Right to this moment Estonia has by far the most highly-developed national ID card system in the world. Much more than a legal photo ID, the mandatory national card also provides digital access to all of Estonia’s secure e-services.

The chip on the card carries embedded files, and using 2048-bit public key encryption, it can be used as definitive proof of ID in an electronic environment.

The digital ID card is useful in many ways than not; for example, your e-identity can be used as a legal travel ID for Estonian citizens travelling within the EU, national health insurance card, proof of identification when logging into bank accounts, or use it for digital signatures, to check medical records, submit tax claims, to use e-Prescriptions, or for the e-government service called i-Voting.

Internet voting, or i-Voting, is a system that allows voters to cast their ballots from any internet-connected computer anywhere in the world. Completely unrelated to the electronic voting systems used elsewhere, which involve costly and problematic machinery, the Estonian solution is simple, elegant and secure. It is a unique solution that simply and conveniently helps to engage people in the governance process. In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world to hold nation-wide elections using this method, and in 2007, it made headlines as the first country to use i-Voting in parliamentary elections.

So to say, every Estonian resident has an ID-card that allows them online access to %99 of the services. Apart of the three risky things; getting married, divorcing your spouse and building a real state there isn’t really anything Estonians can’t do online.

─ May 31, 2019