Universal Identity: Estonia e-residency

This week we discussed a case-study of a country that is actually implementing universal identification systems for citizens through the use of technology. In the first case with Estonia, the government has already, successfully by many measures, implemented an identity system wherein all citizens are given a uniquely identifying public/private key pair, generated by the government, so that citizens are able to fully identify themselves online. This opens up new opportunities for all citizens to have an official identity, and use this ensured identity to vote online, complete tax returns online, obtain and fulfill prescriptions online,  set up businesses, sign contracts, etc.  https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/02…). There are clearly many benefits with a system like this, and many loosely similar systems exist at less successful and smaller scales in other countries, like social security numbers in the US, etc., but the difference in the scale and success of the Estonian operation with regards to the percent of their citizens who enroll makes the Estonian system fundamentally different than any other. Many interesting questions arise with regards to the Estonian system upon further investigation, and for the rest of this blog I’ll focus on questions of the effectiveness of certain abilities that are created by the Estonian system, namely the ability to vote online.

 

One article regarding the effectiveness of Estonia’s digital government (here), suggests that after the system was implemented to allow e-voting to occur, e-voting actually became less popular, stating that “electronic voting is less popular because Estonians value their new found freedom to choose and many dress up in order to go to their polling station.” This is very interesting because I wonder whether voter turnout as a whole increased because of the e-voting initiative, even though less people actually decide to vote online. That is, even though e-voting is less popular, more people were compelled to go out and vote after e-voting was pushed. Given the potential of this technology and social phenomena that is created through the Estonian e-government system, I am hopeful that there is a way to really increase voter turnout and other functions such as census participation. This would be an interesting social phenomena or experiment to look into. Given the paradigm shift that the Estonian government has brought into being, I feel that there is potential for many of the fundamental issues in the citizenship of a nation to be more effectively addressed through this new system.

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