Estonia is a Baltic country whose more than half of the territory is woodland with the population is about 1,3 million. This small state regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the path, the leaders of the country decided that they had to build a competitive advantage to survive. They decided on ICT and strongly supported the development of that field. In effect, Estonia is considered the technology leader. The digital society became its flagship project promoted by ambassadors all over the world, including former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
X-Road system collects so much data about the user that one may consider if the state does collect too much information. Another concern is about the threat of data exploited potentially for the wrong reasons. The foundations of the Estonian system assume that the user is the only owner of his or her personal information. Only one type of information has been excluded from that approach – data considered public. That information is available for other citizens in the system. What’s interesting, physical assets of Estonia’s citizens are public information as well. Everyone can check where the property of a given person. However, information about what we try to check is public as well.
The user specifies the scope of access to the data in the system – if he or she wants to show the doctor only chosen test results – all he or she has to do is to check an adequate option. If governmental services check user data, for instance, during traffic control it is also registered by the system. Each query about user data is recorded with the data of the user accessing the account.
Noone but the user has full access to the data on the account. As Estonians emphasize, the system lets the state acts in the most effective way.
Is digital citizen safe?
The first question in the context of an enormous amount of personal data is about its safety because the attractiveness for digital criminals is high.
However, Estonians have created the platform from the very beginning with data safety in mind. What is in the user account or -more precisely in citizen’s account – is physically hosted locally on many servers, which communicate with one another using end-to-end encryption. Each service in the X-Road has its database. The platform connects each of them and transmits data safely. All output data are signed and encrypted whereas input data – confirmed and logged in the system. To connect to the system citizens need to have a chip card, PIN and password.
After the attack in 2007, the platform has implemented blockchain technology which improved safety significantly. Investments in the cybersecurity made Estonia an expert in this field.
However, if anybody compromised the system, the platform could run from a backup stored in the digital Embassy of Estonia, in the servers in the territory of Luxemburg.
Estonia is no longer a country in a traditional way of thinking. When everything is digitalized, as in Estonia, the state is independent of its location and exists where its citizens are. Since 2014 everyone who wants to develop entrepreneurial skills and start a business can become e-citizen of Estonia – here work, build companies and pay taxes, but not necessarily being physically present in the country.
Until now Estonia gains about 200.000 e-citizens. Estonians believe that this approach to the state will let it function well in the digitalized society, and if ever its territorial integrity becomes threatened, the government, as well as citizens, will have access to their country that exists on the Internet.