The Republic of Estonia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Finland, on the west by the Baltic Sea, on the south by Latvia, and on the east by Russia. Some years ago, I was on a Baltic cruise which made a stop in Tallinn, the capital and largest city of Estonia. I was quite impressed with the ancient narrow streets lined with cars from BMW, Maserati, Mercedes, and Porsche. I later learned Tallinn was a high tech center of innovation. Skype was created by Estonian software developers.
Estonia has a vision to empower all of its citizens by making the government highly efficient with all of its services accessible electronically. In 2005, it introduced what it calls ‘i-Voting’, or internet voting. All citizens have an electronic ID card to assure their identity. They are now given at birth. For eligible voters, they can cast their ballots from any internet-connected computer from anywhere in the world. (Wouldn’t it be nice if our millions of military and overseas citizens could do that?) During a designated pre-voting period, the voter logs onto the system using their ID and casts a ballot. The voter’s identity is removed from the ballot before it reaches the electoral officials for counting to ensure anonymity. An argument against Internet voting is the possibility of coercion. Estonia has a simple and elegant solution to this problem. They allow voters to vote as many times as they want up until the voting period ends. The last vote counts and any prior vote is canceled.
I am quite impressed with Estonia’s digital leadership. They have conducted national elections using the Internet for more than a decade with no security or privacy problems. Strong leadership and vision from the President of the country helped make this possible, but an important factor is Estonia’s digital ID card for all citizens. The chip card enables Estonians to sign contracts, start businesses, retrieve health records, and vote. The country has recently extended its digital leadership outside of its borders.
Estonia has created a new digital nation for global citizens called an e-Residency. Estonia is the first country to offer an e-Residency, a government-issued digital ID available to anyone in the world who can fully authenticate themself. E-Residency offers the ability to easily start and run a global business in a trusted EU environment. An e-Resident anywhere in the world can register an EU based company entirely online. He or she can then access business banking, and online payment providers to accept payments from customers and clients worldwide. They can also digitally sign contracts and other documents.
Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, said,
Even though there are only a little over a million of us, thanks to Estonia’s capabilities, we can make ten million payments, perform ten million requests and sign ten million contracts in just ten minutes. Even ten times larger states cannot beat us. But the good news is that it is possible to join our exclusive club of digitally empowered citizens.
I decided to take her up on the idea, and applied for an e-Residency in 2017. After submitting passport and other identifying information online, I received approval. I then visited the Estonian Embassy in New York, presented my passport, and got finger-printed. I was handed my e-Residency chip card. A subsequent email from the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board confirmed they had “granted e-Residency to JOHN RUSSELL PATRICK”. See my chip card above.
You may be wondering what in the world I am going to do with my e-Residency. Not sure just yet. I may create an EU sister company to Attitude LLC. Not sure what that company would do. Anyway, I feel good I am walking the talk. We really should have national digital IDs in America. This would simplify e-commerce and healthcare records, and enable most of the 100 million people who did not vote in 2016 because they could not get to the polls to use Internet voting. There is a path to create a national digital ID, but that will have to wait until another posting.