E-Estonia

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= " a coördinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society".

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1. By Nathan Heller:

"E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with—legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation.

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It was during (Taavi) Kotka’s tenure (as Estonia’s chief information officer), that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

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Its government presents this digitization as a cost-saving efficiency and an equalizing force. Digitizing processes reportedly saves the state two per cent of its G.D.P. a year in salaries and expenses.

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“If everything is digital, and location-independent, you can run a borderless country,” Kotka said. In 2014, the government launched a digital “residency” program, which allows logged-in foreigners to partake of some Estonian services, such as banking, as if they were living in the country. Other measures encourage international startups to put down virtual roots; Estonia has the lowest business-tax rates in the European Union, and has become known for liberal regulations around tech research. It is legal to test Level 3 driverless cars (in which a human driver can take control) on all Estonian roads, and the country is planning ahead for Level 5 (cars that take off on their own). “We believe that innovation happens anyway,” Viljar Lubi, Estonia’s deputy secretary for economic development, says. “If we close ourselves off, the innovation happens somewhere else.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/18/estonia-the-digital-republic)


2. Bruce Sterling:

"With e-residency, you’ve got the Estonians trying to play financial games with this new psychological situation somehow. They’re not creating a common offshore money-laundry, they’re aiming for technically talented Koreans, Ukrainians and such, who are using Estonia as a national cloud and a business services platform. And to get Euros and bank them.

There’s no pretense at all that “e-residents” are gonna integrate into Estonian society, or learn their impossible language, or ever live there, or even visit there. But it is an Estonian soft-power emanation. They seem to see it as some shareable aspect of their own predicament. “Would you, too, like to be Estonian? Well, this is as Estonian as we can possibly make you, without getting sticky stuff on us. Also: probably Russian-proof!”

The guys who run the e-residency program, who are Estonian government officials, are just a small cluster of wacky 30-something coders who work out of an old wrecked bakery. The offices of WHOLE EARTH REVIEW used to look better than their offices do." (https://people.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/503/State-of-the-World-2018-Bruce-St-page01.html)


3. Kaspar Korjus:

"How do you ‘scale up’ a nation? It’s a challenge that Estonia first embarked on in 2014 by becoming the first country to offer e-Residency.

By that point, Estonia had already evolved into a digital nation where citizens and residents could sign documents and access almost all government services (and a growing number of private services) entirely online using their Estonian digital identities, which were first issued in 2002.

Our digital nation wasn’t perfect. But it was considered normal or normaalne — one of our favourite words as Estonians. We believed that if something could be done online from anywhere in the world then it should be possible to do it online from anywhere in the world. And if that’s normal for us, then why not for anyone else in the world who wanted it too? After all, our digital nation could handle far more ‘users’ than our citizens and residents.

With that logic, the law was amended so that Estonian digital ID cards could be provided to people who are neither citizens nor residents of Estonia — and e-Residency was born.

E-Residency was a new idea, but also a continuation of Estonia’s long tradition of reaching out beyond its borders to make valuable connections around the world. To this day, the Estonian Foreign Ministry is actually the only part of our state that has operated continuously for 100 years, even during the dark days of occupation when Estonians didn’t have control of their physical territory.

The reality too is that all countries seek to connect with people beyond their borders, but Estonia is the first to provide an official status for this relationship and recognise that our state serves them too. Digital identities merely enable us to manage that relationship effectively and make it more mutually beneficial.

The e-Residency programme was launched as a startup in ‘beta mode’ with the ambitious goal of adding 10 million e-residents to our digital nation by 2025. As e-residents began joining our digital nation, we were then able to continuously improve our understanding of which services they most wanted to access online from within our digital nation and how those services could then be improved for everyone — including citizens and residents.

Since then, approximately 50,000 people have applied for e-Residency from 165 countries and territories, and the primary reason has been the desire to establish an Estonian company — because an Estonian company is also a trusted EU company that can be run entirely online with minimal cost and hassle.

Things haven’t exactly been smooth for all e-residents who have since signed up though. For a start, the first ever e-Residency card didn’t even work so it had to be given out again. Back then, e-residents also had to visit Estonia four times in order to complete the process of applying for e-Residency, collecting their card, establishing their company and accessing business banking. (It’s since been reduced to 0). Most notably though, access to traditional business bank accounts has tightened considerably across Europe for non-residents and this has posed the most fundamental challenge to ensuring that more people around the world can benefit from e-Residency. And let’s not forget that Estonia had to respond swiftly to a potential security threat that resulted in digital ID card certificates being frozen. The threat was eliminated without any breaches, but not without causing quite a bit of hassle.

Despite this, Estonia’s e-resident population has continued to grow at ever faster rates and they’ve helped us find solutions to these challenges along the way. Most recently, Estonia’s Parliament has amended the Commercial Code so that Estonian limited companies have the freedom to choose their business banking not just from Estonian banks, but from any credit or payment institution in the European Economic Area." (https://medium.com/e-residency-blog/estonian-president-kersti-kaljulaid-reveals-the-future-direction-of-e-residency-5b1177dfa78c)

Status

December 2018

"E-residents have so far established approximately 6,000 new companies and, by doing so, they have not just benefited from our digital nation but also made a significant contribution towards its further development. They’ve conducted business with other Estonian companies, invested in Estonia, travelled to Estonia, and some have paid taxes to Estonia. Perhaps most interestingly, they’ve also raised greater awareness of Estonia globally — including our culture and our values. E-residents are now an important community of Estonia that extends to every corner of the world. This is the new normaalne for how our country functions and other countries are already following in our steps." (https://medium.com/e-residency-blog/estonian-president-kersti-kaljulaid-reveals-the-future-direction-of-e-residency-5b1177dfa78c)


Discussion

A novel internationalism ?

Nathan Heller:

"Data aren’t centrally held, thus reducing the chance of Equifax-level breaches. Instead, the government’s data platform, X-Road, links individual servers through end-to-end encrypted pathways, letting information live locally. Your dentist’s practice holds its own data; so does your high school and your bank. When a user requests a piece of information, it is delivered like a boat crossing a canal via locks.

Although X-Road is a government platform, it has become, owing to its ubiquity, the network that many major private firms build on, too. Finland, Estonia’s neighbor to the north, recently began using X-Road, which means that certain data—for instance, prescriptions that you’re able to pick up at a local pharmacy—can be linked between the nations. It is easy to imagine a novel internationalism taking shape in this form.

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The openness is startling. Finding the business interests of the rich and powerful—a hefty field of journalism in the United States—takes a moment’s research, because every business connection or investment captured in any record in Estonia becomes searchable public information. (An online tool even lets citizens map webs of connection, follow-the-money style.) Traffic stops are illegal in the absence of a moving violation, because officers acquire records from a license-plate scan. Polling-place intimidation is a non-issue if people can vote—and then change their votes, up to the deadline—at home, online. And heat is taken off immigration because, in a borderless society, a resident need not even have visited Estonia in order to work and pay taxes under its dominion."


e-Residency program

Nathan Heller:

“If countries are competing not only on physical talent moving to their country but also on how to get the best virtual talent connected to their country, it becomes a disruption like the one we have seen in the music industry,” he said. “And it’s basically a zero-cost project, because we already have this infrastructure for our own people.”

The program that resulted is called e-residency, and it permits citizens of another country to become residents of Estonia without ever visiting the place. An e-resident has no leg up at the customs desk, but the program allows individuals to tap into Estonia’s digital services from afar. I applied for Estonian e-residency one recent morning at my apartment, and it took about ten minutes. The application cost a hundred euros, and the hardest part was finding a passport photograph to upload, for my card. After approval, I would pick up my credentials in person, like a passport, at the Estonian Consulate in New York.

This physical task proved to be the main stumbling block, Ott Vatter, the deputy director of e-residency, explained, because consulates were reluctant to expand their workload to include a new document. Mild xenophobia made some Estonians at home wary, too. “Inside Estonia, the mentality is kind of ‘What is the gain, and where is the money?’ ” he said. The physical factor still imposes limitations—only thirty-eight consulates have agreed to issue documents, and they are distributed unevenly. (Estonia has only one embassy in all of Africa.) But the office has made special accommodations for several popular locations. Since there’s no Estonian consulate in San Francisco, the New York consulate flies personnel to California every three months to batch-process Silicon Valley applicants." (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/18/estonia-the-digital-republic)

Future Plans: e-Residency 2.0 White Paper

"The e-Residency 2.0 White Paper contains 49 recommendations for how the programme can meet that goal ... The recommendations for improvement cover technology, business, security and — perhaps most surprisingly — culture. It will help create more mutually beneficial connections between everyone in our digital nation. One of the clearest re-occurring themes throughout this process is that e-Residency should be about much more than business." [1]

More at https://s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/ereswhitepaper/e-Residency+2.0+white+paper+English.pdf


More information

  • Everything Estonia thinks you need to know to start your own

Estonian E-Residency, https://medium.com/e-residency-blog/heres-how-you-can-create-an-eu-company-with-eu-banking-anywhere-on-earth-cbba47386489