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Lessons from the World's Most Tech-Savvy Government

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posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 06:33 AM
I came across an interesting article about my current country and it made me interested in ATS perspective on the matter. This nation is known for its IT-solutions on government level. Nearly anything, from voting to giving signatures, getting a time at the doctor´s or a prescription to creating a company can be done online and reasonably fast. Starting a company takes roughly 15 minutes for example, while income tax declaration is even faster (next, next,next, finish
(as forms are prefilled - different communicate with each and all the data is already calculated for you, just check its correct) ) .

The system is working very well and transparently, which has led to many other nations trying to learn from it. Considering the future, I believe that is the direction of most other nations sooner or later. This is a small country although implementing similar system in a larger nation is simply a scaling issue. And what I am interested in is how ATS members from around the world see such system. Do you see such system as useful or too "dangerous" ?

The country I am talking about is Estonia, a small nation with 1.3 million citizens in North-East Europe bordering with Finland, Sweden, Russia and Latvia. It used be occupied by Soviets but in 1991 it gained its independence back and the whole system needed to be rebuilt. Now this country is a member of EU and NATO, as well as being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, especially when it comes to public government-run services - The e-Estonia. That is what this article explains.

The first building block of e-government is telling citizens apart. This sounds blatantly obvious, but alternating between referring to a person by his social security number, taxpayer number, and other identifiers doesn’t cut it. Estonia uses a simple, unique ID methodology across all systems, from paper passports to bank records to government offices and hospitals.

For these identified citizens to transact with each other, Estonia passed the Digital Signatures Act in 2000. The state standardized a national Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which binds citizen identities to their cryptographic keys.To prevent this system from becoming obsolete in the future, the law did not lock in the technical nuances of digital signatures. In fact, implementation has been changing over time. Initially, Estonia put a microchip in the traditional ID cards issued to every citizen for identification and domestic travel inside the European Union. The chip carries two certificates: one for legal signatures and the other for authentication when using a website or service that recognizes the government's identification system (online banking, for example). Every person over 15 is required to have an ID card, and there are now over 1.2 million active cards. That’s close to 100-percent penetration of the population.

As mobile adoption in Estonia rapidly approached the current 144 percent (the third-highest in Europe), digital signatures adapted too. Instead of carrying a smartcard reader with their computer, Estonians can now get a Mobile ID-enabled SIM card from their telecommunications operator. Without installing any additional hardware or software, they can access secure systems and affix their signatures by simply typing PIN codes on their mobile phone.

As of this writing, between ID cards and mobile phones, more than a million Estonians have authenticated 230 million times and given 140 million legally binding signatures. Besides the now-daily usage of this technology for commercial contracts and bank transactions, the most high-profile use case has been elections. Since becoming the first country in the world to allow online voting nationwide in 2005, Estonia has used the system for both parliamentary and European Parliament elections. During parliamentary elections in 2011, online voting accounted for 24 percent of all votes. (Citizens voted from 105 countries in total; I submitted my vote from California.)

To accelerate innovation, the state tendered building and securing the digital signature-certificate systems to private parties, namely a consortium led by local banks and telecoms. And that's not where the public-private partnerships end: Public and private players can access the same data-exchange system (dubbed X-Road), enabling truly integrated e-services.

A prime example is the income-tax declarations Estonians “fill” out. Quote marks are appropriate here, because when an average Estonian opens the submission form once a year, it usually looks more like a review wizard: “next -> next -> next -> submit.” This is because data has been moving throughout the year. When employers report employment taxes every month, their data entries are linked to people’s tax records too. Charitable donations reported by non-profits are recorded as deductions for the giver in the same fashion. Tax deductions on mortgages are registered from data interchange with commercial banks. And so forth. Not only is the income-tax rate in the country a flat 21 percent, but Estonians get tax overpayments put back on their bank accounts (digitally transferred, of course) within two days of submitting their forms.

Estonia has by many macroeconomic and political standards become a “boring European state,” stable and predictable, if still racing to close the gap with Old Europe from its time behind the Iron Curtain. Still, Estonia is a start-up country—not just by life stage, but by mindset. And this is what United States, along with many other countries struggling to get the Internet, could learn from Estonia: the mindset. The willingness to get the key infrastructure right and continuously re-invent it.

Different government-run e-systems here:

Other articles.

Just a few other facts:
-99,6% of bank transactions are done online
-99% of the country is covered with 4G internet
-IT is/will be added to national curricula (currently test phase in certain schools). Programming starts from grade 1.
-Highest number of start-ups per capita.
-1st country in the world to have government elections voting available online
-expenditures made by the government can be followed online in real-time
etc etc

Of course, such system can also create certain issues, a´la shutting down the whole nation with a cyberattack. There are ideas though against it. One of the ideas is setting the national servers up in embassies around the world, so that the whole nations data exists in a cloud and even if somebody took the territory (like Soviet occupation was), the nation would still exist and can be run via the online system. The visionaries have thought on even bigger things, although that is a whole different story

As a current resident, I can vouch for everything the article says, the systems are working well and generally make life much easier - less waiting, less need to go to offices, less paperwork
. If anybody has any questions about the e-systems, feel free to ask, I am not an expert, but I can answer majority of the questions from first-hand experience

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 06:49 AM
reply to post by Cabin

Sounds like a good idea. Would it really work in bigger countries. Scaling up sounds good, but implementing it over larger geographical areas may pose a problem. Plus roll-out costs?


posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 07:02 AM
It's not rocket science, as long as the people making the decisions and holding the purse strings know what they are doing!
In the UK, for example, it seems each and every government department and service tries to build it's own systems, always bespoke, without first taking a look at what information other departments already hold and leveraging that information and infrastructure. Add to that the incompetency of the government ministers, their advisers and appointees and it's a recipe for disaster every time.
Cumulatively, over the last coupe of decades, this has cost the taxpayer £Billions and what do we have to show for it? Nothing but failed projects, happy consultants and providers and no government level arse kickings.

I have never met a consultant that wasn't full of it.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 07:02 AM
An excellent system until .........

As long as the Government is by the people, for the people such a system can be utopian in nature.

In time though ..... as the Government changes ...... and becomes like the US ......... with CIA, NSA and Home Land Security, not to mention the TSA ...... things may seem not so idyllic as the Government can use this wealth of information to track a citizens every transaction.

There are many, many benefits ........ and many hidden deadly dangers.

Can the people keep a solid unwavering grip on the Government ...... or is it already too late?


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