Digital Life in Estonia’s unique use of Technology: e-banking & i-voting

Meet Estonia’s digital life

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Estonia’s independence, the Estonian government has been heavily investing into the digital world, in order to not only make their citizen’s lives easier and faster, but also to attract foreign investment and improve the country’s economy.

Although, from the outside, that may seem like nothing new, Estonia’s approach to it is very innovative. The country has been moving out from “pen and paper” bureaucracy into streamlined digital processes based on the internet, through a governmental program called e-Estonia. At the time of this writing, the official e-Estonia website states that 99% of state services are now online.

Let’s see what this is all about.

Digital bureaucracy

One of the main advantages that that initiative gives to citizens is the ability to deal with governmental and private bureaucratic procedures much more rapidly and without the need to leave your home. Everything can be done using the internet.

This began in 1996 with the creation of the first e-Banking system, which is now much more widespread worldwide thanks to financial technology startups, which was then followed by systems for the government decision process (e-Cabinet meeting), tax declarations (e-Tax board), mobile parking payment (m-Parking), digitization of healthcare systems and medical history (e-Health and e-Prescription), ID card (e-ID), among many others. Everything is working everyday, 24h per day.

As a result, you get an extremely fast and transparent system which centralizes all information about you, and you can both check it out or allow companies to access it with just a few clicks. All of this powered by e-Estonia’s x-Road (a distributed data system) and blockchain technology (for cybersecurity).

i-Voting

One of the most revolutionary services they provide is probably i-Voting. The i-voting service gives Estonian citizens the ability to cast votes in Estonian parliamentary elections from anywhere in the world. The person just has to be an Estonian citizen. The Estonian government states that votes have already been cast from over 110 countries, for both national and local parliamentary elections (as they have a parliamentary government). 

This doesn’t mean that they have scrapped in-person voting. It is still available and many people use it. They estimate that only about 44% of citizens use i-Voting. But the voting process is anonymous in both cases.

The i-Voting system also comes with some advantages. Other than being able to vote anywhere you are, you are also free to change your mind at any time you want. If you decided that you no longer want to vote for the candidate you voted, you can just vote again, and the system will overwrite your previous vote, as long as you do so within the election period.

Although the system still isn’t used to institute some form of direct democracy, it already showcases the power of technology to aid governments and to make everything quicker and easier.

e-Residency

However, the most revolutionary technology implemented by e-Estonia is definitely e-Residency. If you don’t have citizenship in a European country and want your business to enter the European market, then this is the solution for you. Read more articles: Cloud Engineer

The e-Residency service is a government-backed solution that allows any person from outside of Estonia to become a “digital citizen” of Estonia, that is, an e-Resident. Although this isn’t exactly full citizenship (meaning it doesn’t come with political rights and such), it gives you the right to start and run a company in Estonia, meaning it gives you access to the entire European market.

Even better, e-Residency is fully integrated with other services from e-Estonia and follows the same philosophy: you can do everything online. You can run your entire business, open bank accounts, pay taxes and more without ever setting foot on Europe, while also enjoying an entire ecosystem of people and companies which developed around this niche.

Although Estonia is the first country to take this huge step towards being 100% digital, we can expect that, following their success, other countries will probably follow their steps in the near future, allowing our lives to become much quicker, efficient and interconnected.