Rebuilding Government And Democracy
Billal And Dan – The Class of 98’ – Reading, Broad Street
Estonia is a Baltic state with Latvia to the south and Russia to the East.
With a population of 1.3 million about the same as the city of Birmingham.
When Estonia regained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 it had the opportunity to rethink its governmental procedures. As far back as 1991 their plan was to use the internet to completely think the rethink the role of the government and redesign how it would operate, what services it would provide, how it would achieve its goals through purely internet based technologies.
Today, Estonia is widely regarded as a world leader in digital government, and its president in office from 2006-2016 Toomas Hendrik Ilves, will be the first to say so: “We’re very proud of what we’ve done here,” he says. “And we hope the rest of the world can learn from our successes.”
Estonia rates second of all countries on the social progress index for personal and political rights, tied with Australia and the United Kingdom. Estonia’s leaders have designed their e-government strategy around decentralisation, interconnectivity, openness, and cybersecurity. Their goal has been to future-proof infrastructure to accommodate the new. All residents can access information online, use their digital identity to conduct business, and update or correct their government records. While much of the work predates the blockchain, the country introduced a keyless signature infrastructure that integrates beautifully with blockchain technology.
Central to the model of e-Estonia is a digital identity. As of 2012, 90 percent of Estonians had an electronic ID card to access government services and travel within the European union. The chip embedded in the card holds basic information about the cardholder as well as two certificates – one to authenticate identity and one to provide a digital signature – and a personal identification number (PIN) of their choice.
Estonians use these to vote, review, and edit their automated tax forms online , apply for social security benefits and access banking services and public transportation. No need for bank cards or Metrocards. Alternatively, Estonians can do the same with mobile-ID on their mobile phones. In 2013, Estonians submitted over 95 percent of taxes electronically and conducted 98 percent of banking transactions online.
Since 2005, citizens have used i-voting for their national elections. Using their ID card or mobile-ID, Estonians can log in and vote from anywhere in the world. In the 2011 parliamentary election, citizens cast almost 25 percent of ballots online, up from 5.5 percent in the previous parliamentary election. The people obviously like and trust the system; the number went up again for the 2014 European Parliament elections in which a third of the voters participated over the Internet from ninety-eight different countries. The Estonian cabinet uses a paperless process and makes all draft legislation accessible online. The average length of weekly cabinet meetings has gone from around five hours to under ninety minutes.
Estonia has an electronic land registry that has transformed the real estate market, reducing land transfers from three months to little over a week.
In the last few years, Estonia has launched its E-Residency program where anyone in the world can apply for a “transactional digital identity” and authentication to access secure services, encrypt, verify, and sign documents digitally. An entrepreneur anywhere in the world can register his or her online company online in fewer than twenty minutes and administer the company online. These capabilities contribute to Estonia’s image as a digital country.
None of this would work or be acceptable without solid cybersecurity. As Mike Gault, CEO of Guardtime, noted, “Integrity is the number-one problem in cyberspace and this is what Estonia recognised ten years ago. They built this technology so that everything on governments could be verified without having to trust humans…it is impossible for the government to lie to its citizens.
Estonia’s cybersecurity derives from its keyless signature infrastructure (KSI), which verifies any electronic activity mathematically on the blockchain without system administrators cryptographic keys, or government staff. This capability ensures total transparency and accountability ; stakeholders can see who has accessed which information, when, and what they have done with it. Consequently, the state can demonstrate record integrity and regulatory compliance, and individuals can verify the integrity of their own records without the involvement of a third party. It lowers costs; there are no keys to protect, and no documents to re-sign periodically. According to e-Estonia, “With KSI, history cannot be rewritten.
Clearly, blockchain technology applies not only to corporations fixated on profits but also to public institutions focused on prosperity for all, from government, education, and health care to energy grids, transportation systems, and social services.
Where to start?