As nations paving the way in innovation towards the future, Estonia may not necessarily be a name that springs to mind. Yet the European nation, with a population of just 1.3 million people, is well on its way to becoming one of the most digitally accessible nations in the world.
Taavi Kotka, Chief Information Officer of the Estonian Government has recently been talking about becoming the world’s first nation to implement e-residency, with the aim to provide a “transnational digital identity available to anyone in the world”, and at the current stage, is something that up to five other countries are looking to replicate.
So far, the project has accumulated 4,000 people over the first 60 days, doubling the target number of 2000 registered users for the first year.
For a fee of just €50 (£36), anyone is liable to become an e-Estonian. Now from this, you don’t become a resident of the country, and it doesn’t automatically allow any rights to move to the country, but you gain many advantages such as digitally signing digital documents, establishing an Estonian business online, encrypting and sending documents, e-banking and more.
Over the last 20 years, technology has redefined almost every area of our lives and made connecting and collaborating with the rest of the world easier than ever. However, one of the main areas where esteemed changes are yet to take effect is governments. Using an example from here in the UK where something as simple as updating an address on a driving licence requires a passport number, tax identity number, five years of previous addresses, a date of birth and any other ‘relevant’ information that the site requires. All of this information has to be taken from different sources, and helps form a stressed relationship with bureaucracy.
The development of e-Residency hasn’t cost the country any money either, Kotka says, as it is built on Estonia’s existing – and impressive – digital democracy. A brief look into the enhanced services that e-residency is derived from shows that Estonians have e-police, e-prescriptions, e-schools (where parents can interact with teachers to develop the learning process), e-tax and many more online services.
When adding this to the slowly growing examples of innovative governments; (notable mentions include a small town in Spain using Twitter as a primary way for its citizens to interact with its MPs, and a council in London allowing residents to scan a QR code on a bin to let officials know it’s full) it has been shown that technology is slowly trickling into areas previously resistant to change, which is a highly encouraging factor.
We don’t know what the future could hold for governments that learn to innovate, but Estonia is leading by example, and many countries could do very well to use such a model for themselves.