If you ask you which country is the most digitalized country in the world, how would you answer it?
Is it the United States, Japan, or China, where mobile payment is the most popular? The answer may surprise you, but Estonia.
On the east side of the Baltic Sea, there is a country embraced by the ocean, and that is Estonia. If you have followed Nolan's new movie recently, you might know that one of the main locations for "Creed" is Estonia.
With a land area of only 45,000 square kilometers and a population of just over 1.3 million, Estonia is not a big country in terms of land area or population. Although Estonia only declared its official independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, after nearly 30 years of development, it has become the most digital country in the world.
▲ The darker the color, the higher the degree of digitization
According to the UN's 2020 e-government survey report, Estonia ranks first in the world in the citizen digital participation index.
If you didn't know anything about Estonia's Internet technology before this, then the chat software Skype, born in this small European country, should arouse your interest in Estonia. In 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion.
The Microsoft Skype division is headquartered in Luxembourg, but most of the development team and 44% of the employees in the division still work in Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia.
How did Estonia have become a model and top student in the digitalization of government affairs in the world in just a few decades?
Except for marriage and real estate, everything else can be handled online
Estonia may be the only country in the world where there is no written record of a cabinet meeting. Ministers can sign resolutions through smartphones or iPads, and even use digital signatures on the back seats of cars to pass the approval of a major national event.
Citizens do not need to go to the bank to deal with various financial problems, this can be done at home. In fact, very few daily tasks require Estonians to leave home: whether it is filing tax returns, arranging doctor visits, checking children’s homework, signing contracts, or even electing members of parliament, more things can be done at home in a matter of minutes .
The weather will not affect the election results in Estonia, because Estonia supports electronic voting, which sounds as easy as casting a community star for a baby.
▲ Estonian citizens can save 240 hours of work a year
In Estonia, citizens can complete 99% of government business on the Internet, which means taking a day off to travel back and forth in several institutions, and fill in several information forms repeatedly just to prove the absurd scene of "I am me", which is already the past in Estonia formula. In Estonia, this would be called the Electronic Stone Age.
However, if citizens need to register for marriage or want to get a divorce, in order to avoid electronically turning the sacred marriage into a child's play, citizens must seriously handle these matters offline.
All this is inseparable from X-Road, an information collation system established by Estonia for citizens. With this information integration system, various government departments can easily call citizens’ personal information, and citizens can clearly understand and control individuals. Information authorization and usage status. Since 2007, Estonia has applied X-Road technology to identity verification and other tasks.
▲ X-Road is an open source project, you can even find it on GitHub
X-Road was born under the concept of "Once Only". Citizens only need to submit their personal information once in the X-Road system, and they can call it whenever they need to use personal information.
In fact, Estonia has already begun to deploy digital citizenship services in 1996. After years of continuous improvement, even a newborn baby in Estonia has begun to experience digital life from the moment of birth.
When a newborn baby is born, his/her personal information will be synchronously transmitted from the hospital to the health department, and the registration of the new citizen will be completed immediately. There is no need to keep the parents busy for various certificates.
The successful use of X-Road in the citizen information system has received attention from many other countries, including developed countries such as Finland, Iceland, Australia, and Estonia is also willing to share this efficient blockchain integrated information model with other countries .
At present, countries such as Finland and Iceland have already connected to the X-Road system. It can be said that the digitalization level of the Nordic countries has improved to Estonia.
The only "e-resident" in the world
Estonia's population of only 1.3 million has always been an important factor constraining its national power. If the country is to grow rapidly, it is unrealistic to rely on the natural reproduction of 1.3 million people. Combining its own digital advantages, Estonia came up with an unprecedented idea: since Estonia has gradually transformed into a digital country, its residents should also be digitalized!
In December 1, 2014, Estonia facing the world launched a creative plan, electronic resident program (E-Residency).
The e-resident program is not a policy to encourage immigration. The e-resident is a digital identity and status issued by the government, with which it can use Estonia's electronic services including X-Road and enter its unique transparent business environment.
Estonia has a transparent and trustworthy online business environment. In fact, Estonia is also one of the most transparent countries in the world. Because the company information established in Estonia needs to be investigated by relevant departments, the information must be verified and made public.
By becoming an e-resident of Estonia, people can freely establish and manage an EU company anywhere in the world without paper.
People only need to fill out the application online on their computer, and they will soon be able to obtain the status of Estonian e-resident, and can use the e-resident status to enjoy Estonian electronic services.
For example, you can set up a company based in the European Union in Estonia and enjoy the business convenience of a variety of cross-border cooperation, and it only takes 18 minutes, which is incredible.
▲ Estonia has also launched VR tours, but you may see strange things
To date, more than 70,000 people from more than 170 countries have applied for electronic residency and more than 12,000 Estonian companies have been established.
Estonia also wants to become the "world's most populous country" with its unique "digital population" growth. The current annual growth rate of the e-resident program has exceeded the birth rate of Estonia's natural population.
Behind the digitization is the bitter history of a small country
Estonia had never tried peace before independence. In history, Estonia was ceded to Germany by Tsarist Russia, became an enemy of Russia in World War I, and was later taken back by the Soviet Union in World War II. The fate of Estonia is like a pawn on a chessboard, controlled by the Soviet Union and Germany back and forth.
Finally, in 1991, Estonia, which was fed up with the displacement, along with Latvia and Lithuania who were also in the Baltic Sea, successively announced its separation from the divided Soviet Union. At this time Estonia has nothing but the most precious freedom.
The legacy of the former Soviet boss to Estonia is nothing but a mess except for the corrupt bureaucracy. When the impoverished Estonia wanted to re-establish a new state apparatus, it even faced the problem of insufficient paper. Mart Laar, the prime minister of Estonia at the time, knew better than anyone that this was a great challenge for Estonia, but also a new opportunity.
Faced with Estonia, which lacks natural resources, Mart Laar made a resolute decision and led a government team with an average age of only 35 to "move" Estonia to the Internet.
He put the focus of digitalization on education and electronic finance, and in 1996 made an important decision to work hard to enter digitalization, launching the Tiger's Leap (tiger leap) education policy.
The Tiger's Leap policy aims to vigorously cultivate young technical talents. Almost the entire country has been mobilized to carry out computer and network infrastructure and information technology literacy. Estonia’s education on the Internet ranges from adults to school-age children, allowing citizens to embrace the Internet and give Estonia its grand goal. The long-range goal laid a solid foundation.
▲ The number one in the world is China's Beijing-Shanghai-Zhejiang-Jiangsu area
The education policy of Tiger's Leap has not stopped with the improvement of the network construction. Estonia has become a major education country. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2018 International Student Evaluation Program (PISA), Estonia ranks first in Europe.
The assessment is for 15-year-old children in 79 countries and regions (including 36 OECD member states) in reading, mathematics and science. The ranking is published every 3 years.
The road to the cloud in Estonia has not been smooth sailing. In 2007, Estonia encountered a cyber attack by hackers. After the attack broke out, it caused a huge shock in the local area. Some websites were originally visited by only 1,000 people per month, but during the attack, 2,000 people logged in every second. Estonia, which relies heavily on the Internet for daily operations, is almost paralyzed and can only respond by emergency shutting down external communications.
Afterwards, Estonia published the "Network Security Strategy of the Republic of Estonia" to improve its network deficiencies. Rather than taking this tragic experience as a shame, Estonia took it as a valuable lesson and shared its experience with the world. On the official website of the Estonian government, you can see Estonia share suggestions on how to deal with cyber security issues.
"Technology is actually very cheap, and any country can be digitized. However, many countries have no political awareness of technology and enact laws to implement digitization." Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia mentioned in a sharing session. Technology is not the main body of the country's digitalization. The advancement of digitalization requires the simultaneous progress of laws and ethics.
Digitalization in Estonia has made complex life easier, but it is not easy to replicate its success. Different from the digital direction of "individualization, information privatization and efficiency race" represented by the United States, Estonia believes that providing a universal and secure platform is the country's digital future.
To allow such a platform to enter the lives of all citizens requires the trust of citizens, and this trust needs to be built on policies endorsed by the state, which obviously cannot be provided by big tech companies pursuing profits.
Marten Kaevats, the national digital consultant of Estonia, believes that the United States has a backward concept of citizen data protection. The American people must keep in mind their various social accounts. The excessive concentration of this data structure has caused the loss of community trust.
Estonian citizens’ clear control of personal information gives them a strong sense of trust in digital platforms, and this trust that requires strong policies is what is missing in many countries that need to promote digitalization.
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