Living digitally

In Estonia, the majority of citizens have an e-identity cards which citizens can use to do several official transactions electronically, including voting. Photo taken from -
In Estonia, the majority of citizens have an e-identity cards which citizens can use to do several official transactions electronically, including voting. Photo taken from -

In an address to the Roadmap Recovery Team, the Prime Minister admitted that the country has been underperforming and failing to utilise technology as a means to accelerate development. It was at this meeting that he accepted a recommendation for the adoption of a unique e-identity card for every citizen.

The idea came from Michael Annisette, general secretary of NATUC and president of the SWWTU. I must admit that during my many years of encounters with this union leader I have found Mr Annisette one of the best-read and strategically astute activists in his field. He possesses an intuitive and probing mind with the ability to fashion creative solutions, while others remain stuck in outdated dogma and rhetoric. So I was not surprised that such a recommendation would come from this gentleman.

The concept of e-identity cards comes from the Republic of Estonia. Almost every citizen has a unique e-identity card. The card is used to access and/or amend individuals' data online, for e-voting, and is a legally accepted form of e-signature. They can use the card to apply for health care, for electronic banking, signing contracts, public transit, encrypting e-mail and voting. Estonia offers over 600 e-services to citizens and 2,400 to businesses. Its e-government cloud boasts that it is a platform which helps to convert public services into flexible e-solutions.

In all, 99 per cent of public services are available online except for marriages, divorces and real-estate transactions. Ninety-eight per cent of all tax declarations are filed online. Personal health records can be accessed anywhere in the country.

Think about all the time and money being saved and ease of getting things done. This new paradigm will certainly drive higher levels of societal sophistication and inter relationship efficiency. The majority of the State’s services are digitised. Citizens will surely benefit from such a system because of the speed and ease of accessing government services. It will reduce visits to government offices to submit applications, as these will be now fully accessible online.

Imagine for example the entire process of registering a business, and not having to leave home/work to go to Legal Affairs Office, line up to get a take a number to wait for a CSR for a stub before you get to another line to make a payment – just for the initial stage of a business name approval. Then not having to do that again to actually submit the registration documents.

Government will have real-time data (employment/unemployment, social services needs, police records etc), some of which can be publicly accessible. Employers can check previous employment history and police records on employees or prospective candidates. Employees can apply for and check on their NIB contributions, file taxes, renew national identifications online and not have to visit any public buildings.

Estonia started e-voting as early as 2005, and by 2017, 30 per cent voters cast their votes electronically. Such a system would be compliant with our new social distancing requirements, especially as we prepare for our upcoming election.

What I find interesting and impressive is that a quarter of e-voters were over 55, and 20 per cent were between 45 and 54. Those categories are non-millennial and not the typical “early adopter” in the widely used model diffusion of technology adoption curve.

Citizens voted using their computer or smart phone, and then checked their encrypted vote using their phone to ensure that their candidate was actually chosen. This assured a level of security as there were concerns about hacking and viruses intercepting who actually got the vote. A voter can change their vote any number of times before the deadline, but at the end the final vote cast is what counts.

The e-system cloud is highly encrypted and is under constant security testing to ensure data and software integrity. Citizens can view what information is stored and what it is used for, as there is a high level of transparency in the system. A data protection inspectorate is available for citizens to relay any complaint about their information or other anomalies.

Widespread adoption should not be a major stumbling block for us, as we are more digitally literate than many may think or believe. However, it will require constant interaction to encourage uses of the services and to gain trust.

We are at a pivotal point in this country’s development, and this is a key time to embrace the opportunity technology affords. I trust that the Road Map Recovery Team will include Mr Annisette’s idea, which can thrust us into a more technologically advanced age.

I believe that we can start with the workplace society using the NIB database as the primary source. We can therefore build on that sector, as it appears that at least two of the three arms of the tripartite construct are in agreement. The private sector must now come on board. Let’s do this.


"Living digitally"

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