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I am from Estonia and we have been declaring taxes online since 2001. We have been using digital identification and signature since 2002. We have been voting online since 2005. Today we have a wider range of public services than you can imagine: education, police, justice, founding companies, applying for benefits, finding your medical card or contesting a parking ticket - all this is done online. It’s easier to tell you what three things we still cannot do online. We must come in order to get an identity card, to get married or to get a divorce, or to sell real estate. That's all. I'm not crazy when I tell you that every year I can’t wait to start filling out my tax return.

Since all I need to do is, sitting on the couch with a mobile phone, scroll through several pages with ready-made data on income and deductions and click on “Confirm”. Three minutes later I already see the amount of tax refunds. This is a very pleasant feeling. No tax consultants, no collection of receipts, no calculations. I have not seen the State Chancellery in my eyes for about seven years.

The purpose of the post is to discuss the e-government system in terms of development and implementation


Putting a think tank on governmet as a service in the telegram channel @GaaS


One of the features of modern life that can no longer exist, given the technological capabilities, is the maze of bureaucracy. We almost completely got rid of it in Estonia, thanks to the efforts of the government, which also went through digitalization. For example, the cabinet works online and completely without papers.

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The central idea of ​​this development is the transformation of the role of the state and the digitalization of trust. Think about it. In most countries, people do not trust their government. And the government does not trust them in return. Everyone expects the problem to be resolved through complex formal paper-based procedures. But alas, they will not solve the problem. They just make life harder. Estonian experience shows that this technology can help restore confidence in creating an effective, user-oriented service delivery system that meets the needs of citizens.

We did not do this by digitalizing the bureaucracy as it is. But relying on several powerful, general principles, changing the rules and procedures, getting rid of unnecessary data collection and duplication of tasks, we became open and transparent.

I will show you some key principles of electronic design in Estonia. First, it is important to guarantee the privacy and confidentiality of data and information. This is achieved through reliable digital identification, which is issued by the state and is compatible with everything.

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Virtually every Estonian has it. The identity is confirmed by a reliable digital signature, which is accepted, used and has legal force both in Estonia and in the European Union. When the system can correctly and reliably determine who uses it, after entering the system, it will provide access to the personal data of the citizen and all public services within one platform, and will allow you to authorize anything based on a digital signature.

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The second principle, one of the most transformative, is called Once. This means that the state is forbidden to request the same data more than once and it is forbidden to store them in more than one place.For example, if you have already submitted a birth or marriage certificate to the population register, then this is the only place where this data will be stored. And no other institution will ask for this data again. Only once is this a very powerful principle, since it determines the entire structure about data collection in the country: what information is collected and who is responsible for maintaining it, so that we avoid centralizing data, duplicating data and ensuring their relevance.

This distributed approach also avoids the problem of a single point of failure. But since the data cannot be copied or collected more than once, this means that the project must be safe and reliable to access this information all the time so that government agencies can provide their services.

This is the role of the data exchange platform called “X-Road”, which has been used since 2001.

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Just like a highway, it connects databases and registers of the public sector, local municipalities and enterprises, organizing for them a real-time mode, safe and regulated data exchange, keeping a controlled trace after each operation.

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Here is a screenshot of the broadcast showing all the X-Road requests for all services, which makes things easier. And this is a real picture of all the links between public and private sector databases. As you can see, there is no central database at all.

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Confidentiality and privacy are certainly very important. But in the digital world, the reliability and integrity of information is critical to operations. For example, if someone changes your medical record, for example, an allergy without your knowledge or your doctor, treatment can lead to death. That is why in a digital society for a system like Estonian, when there are almost no paper originals, when almost only digital originals, data integrity, rules for exchanging data, software components and log files are paramount. We use our own blockchain, which we invented in 2007, even before the blockchain gained popularity in order to verify and guarantee the integrity of data in real time. Blockchain is our auditor, he promises that no access to or manipulation of data will be left without recording.

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Data ownership is another key principle in the project system. Aren't you worried that governments, tech companies, and other companies around the world demand the data they have already collected about you, generally refuse to give access to this information, and often fail to prove how it was used or shared with third parties? This situation seems rather alarming to me.

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The Estonian system is based on the principle that a person is the owner of the data collected about him, so he has the absolute right to know what information is collected and who has access to it. Each time a policeman, doctor or any civil servant gets access to a citizen’s personal information online, they will, firstly, receive information for further work only after authorization. Secondly, all their requests are stored in a log file. This detailed log file is part of the public services system and provides real transparency, excluding the violation of confidentiality, unnoticed by a citizen.

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Of course, this is a simplified presentation of all the digital design principles on which e-Estonia is built. Now the government is preparing to use artificial intelligence and build a whole new generation of public services - proactive services that are activated on the basis of various life situations that people may have, such as childbirth, unemployment, or starting a business.

Of course, managing a digital society without a paper backup can be a problem, right? Although we believe that our systems are reliable, it is better to play it safe, as we saw in 2007, when the first cyber incident occurred and literally blocked part of our networks, without giving us access to public services for hours. We did it. But this event has put cybersecurity on the agenda both in terms of strengthening the platform and backup.

How to create a copy of a system that covers everything in a small country, where everything is very close? For example, you can export a copy of the data outside the country into the extraterritorial space of the embassy. Today we have embassies of data that store the most important digital assets of Estonia, guaranteeing continuity of operations, the protection of our data and, most importantly, our sovereignty. Even in the event of a physical attack on our territory.

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Probably many of you are now thinking: where are the cons? Everything digital is administrative, and let's be honest, financially more efficient. The interface with computer systems may give the impression that the human factor in the election of politicians and participation in democratic processes is somehow less important. There are also some people who are afraid of the spread of technology, fearing that they will make their skills obsolete. So, unfortunately, governing the country on a digital platform did not save us from the political struggle for power and polarization in society, as we saw in the last election. So far, people are participating in this.

Last question. If everything does not depend on location and I can access all the services from anywhere in the world, why can't people use at least some of these services, even if they do not live in Estonia?

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Five years ago, we conducted a government startup - e-Residency, which tens of thousands of people have already joined. These are businessmen from 136 different countries, creating their enterprises in digital format, conducting their online banking operations and managing their companies through the e-Estonia platform within the framework of EU legislation, using an electronic identification card similar to mine from anywhere in the world.

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The Estonian system is location independent and user oriented. She puts in the first place inclusiveness, openness and reliability. It focuses on security and transparency, and on ensuring that data is managed by its rightful owners, the people to whom this data relates. Do not take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Thank.

The purpose of the post is to discuss the e-government system in terms of development and implementation


Translated by Darya Kamishnikowa
Reviewed by Peter Pallós


The purpose of the post is to discuss the e-government system in terms of development and implementation


Putting a think tank on governmet as a service on the telegram channel @GaaS





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