Allison's Reflections

Just another Weblogs at Harvard site

Blog #0111: e-America?

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 1:31 pm on Friday, October 28, 2016

After last week’s focus on voting and its potential to transition to becoming an online process, I was left with many doubts regarding the intersection of politics and technology. This week, I was introduced to a very intriguing concept– e-Residency. This is offered to every world citizen by the country of Estonia. It allows e-Residents to sign official documents, conduct monetary business, and even declare taxes all online. The website writes, “Estonia is proudly pioneering the idea of a country without borders”.

Would a similar system be implementable in the US?

While Estonia’s e-Residency program seems to be geared towards business owners, its existence led me to wonder whether other citizenship-related matters could be transferred online. For example, the process of naturalization is currently a multi-step process in the United States. One question that popped up for me was whether this process (or at least part of it) could be put online. According to the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, this is the current procedure for applying for citizenship:

  1. Prepare the Form N-400, the application for naturalization
  2. Send in the Form N-400 by snail mail to USCIS, located either in Phoenix, AZ or Dallas, TX (which state depends on individual’s state of residence)
  3. Physically go to a biometrics appointment if necessary
  4. Complete an in-person interview at a USCIS office, where a speaking, reading, writing, and civics test will also be administered

Considering this procedure, I see only step 2 as easily transferable to an online method. While not every applicant must go in for a biometrics appointment, those who do get their fingerprints collected, photo taken, and name signed for electronic capture. This doesn’t seem like something that could be done via the Internet without compromising the security of the current system. Moreover, the speaking, reading, writing, and civics tests seem like they could be cheated on if they took place online.

However, while naturalization may not seem feasible online, surely there are ways to implement some degree of digital citizenship in the US. Also, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, I wonder if there will ever be a point where separate countries choose to pool some of their government data on citizens in one database (say, to check whether an applicant for naturalization is being truthful about their records), and if so, what information they’d be willing to put out. I’d love to discuss what could potentially be done online in terms of digital citizenship specifically within the US next week. 🙂

1 Comment »


Comment by profsmith

November 13, 2016 @ 9:34 pm

You raise a very interesting point about separate countries pooling their IT efforts and possibly sharing their governmental data. In Massachusetts, several universities including Harvard have done this for high-performance computing. See What would it take for a few small countries to do this?

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