Digital Citizenship

Estonia:

“Digital citizenship” in the Estonian case seems to be mostly about attracting business. Their pitch is simple; register as an Estonian e-citizen by filling out a couple of forms, get your ID and start your company based in Estonia (which has access to the European Single Market). The German word for shell corporation is “Briefkastenfirma” — literally post box company. Perhaps here the term may become email company.

The Estonian case is more than a Baltic pitch at paradise papers tax evasion because it also includes this concept of proving who you are online and thus being able to digitally sign contracts that are enforceable by law. We can already use credit cards to pay for things online, which is a sort of contract, but they are very limited. However, Credit card fraud is a big problem, and while the general setup and verification process of Estonian e-citizenships may be better than credit cards, humans will prevail and mess up leading to computationally inexpensive ways to steal e-identities. This may lead to some issues.

 

Open source government:

This can mean several very different things. 1) greater transparency, 2) online collaborative lawmaking and 3) open source development of government tools.

1) Greater transparency. Government would be open source in the sense that you can read the source code which would not just include constitutions and laws but also government interpretations of laws so that they are precisely defined and government agenda. Open source might also imply that anyone can submit bug reports or patches which leads us to

2) Collaborative lawmaking. I think that using an approach similar to open source projects for lawmaking is quite promising. It is a format that would allow many to contribute in small or big ways and wouldn’t require any expertise, kinda like wikipedia. Of course would still need some sort of framework to enact the laws which again is possible but would require a fundamental shift in politics. There are examples of projects with large similarities to such a frame work, like the Icelandic constitutional reform in 2010-13 which included the publishing of drafts and public feedback but did not follow the typical format of an open source project. Lastly, for lawmaking to work it presumably must be seen as legitimate by the people (or enforced autocratically but that seems antithetical to the point of open source government) and that is difficult to do when so many can contributed and the Russian troll army has infiltrated — although now that I think of it maybe this is also a feature of more traditional government…

3) Open sourcing government software. This city of Boston has a github page and other cities have done similar things. The US federal government has code.gov. These projects are great but I doubt that making some github pages will lead to much because open source projects depend on dedicated developers and a base of users who care. I think this is the sort of issue that Aaron Schwartz would have been really good at tackling.

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