How Emerging Technologies Are Boosting E-Governance in Estonia

How Emerging Technologies Are Boosting E-Governance in Estonia

by September 20, 2021

Estonia has seen soaring success with e-governance initiatives. In the UN’s 2020 E-Government Development Index, the country ranked third out of a total of 193 countries. The index assesses how countries use information technologies to promote access and inclusion.

Estonia also ranked first worldwide in a supplementary survey on e-participation. This survey focused on the use of online services for e-information sharing by governments to citizens, e-consultation between stakeholders, and engagement via e-decision making.

Moreover, 99% of Estonia’s public services are digitised. The country has pioneered the use of technologies such as a Government Cloud, to integrate siloed legacy public IT infrastructure, as well as a data embassy located in Luxembourg, and i-Voting and e-Cabinet systems.

Estonia has also not shied away from using emerging technologies. The country is the first in the world to deploy blockchain on a national level. It uses a scalable blockchain technology called KSI Blockchain to secure its data. KSI Blockchain was designed in 2007 by Estonian cryptographers.

Applications of blockchain are also found elsewhere in e-governance in Estonia, such as through its e-Law system that allows public access to every draft law submitted since February 2003, and the blockchain based e-Health Records.

All this is backed by the X-Road interoperability services. While not inherently blockchain based, it connects the many different government databases in Estonia.

To discuss this, the Dubai International Financial Centre Academy, along with NJORD Law Firm and 36 Commercial, put together a webinar on “Next Gen Government Services Powered by Blockchain – Estonia”.

Moderated by Michael Patchett-Joyce from the 36 Group, the panel featured managing partner of NJORD Estonia Karolina Ullman, Head of NJORD Law Firm’s IT law practice Liisi Jürgen, and attorney at NJORD Law Firm Siiri Vello.

Panelists discussed the unique applications of emerging technologies for e-governance in Estonia.

How Estonia Is Spearheading Emerging Technologies in E-Governance

Panelists at the Next Gen Government Services Powered by Blockchain – Estonia webinar

Personalised, proactive e-governance

Ullman noted that the Estonian government had deployed blockchain way back in 2012, and needed to move forward to designing for the future.

With the technology already in place, the government can start to take a more personalised and proactive approach to e-governance in Estonia, since they already have access to most of the data that they need, she said.

By proactive, Ullman is referring to a system where the government can intuitively reach out to citizens for services they may need at the time.

For instance, citizens must generally apply to renew their ID cards on expiry. “A proactive service would be that the state will just know that your ID card is about to expire and issue you a new ID card,” Ullman explains.

Some of these personal, proactive systems already in place include registering a new citizen when a child is born, and proactive add-ons for VAT registration, employee registration, and business permits.

Planned proactive services for the future include a pension service bundle which would inform individuals of their pension payouts six months prior to retirement. The service would also provide payout alternatives, and applications to continue working or retire early.

Proactive add-ons will also be made available in the near future for residence address updates, health checkups, driving licences, and even military services. Requirements for proactive marriage and death e-services have also been identified, Ullman noted.

Using genetic data

On the medical front, genetic data could be used for a personalised approach for both preventative measures and treatment, Jürgen said.

“In Estonia, around 70% of the adult population have joined the Estonian Biobank where their DNA is analysed, both for general research and also for a personal treatment. In my opinion, it will be even criminal not to not use this and similar databases for the benefit of humanity,” Jürgen said.

Unlike classic privacy rules, consent can be made opt-out in this case, she noted. Here, instead of providing consent for the use of data, consent is assumed and individuals would need to proactively opt out, she suggested.

She noted that these databases benefit both scientific research and personal treatment. Jürgen also added that while this data is personalised, names are not required and the data can be thus anonymised.

Ethical and legal considerations in using genetic data, specifically for conventional daily medicine, need to be accounted for, she continued.

“Genetic data is actually dangerous in the sense that it provides a lot of information, not only about this particular person, but also all his or her blood relatives, regardless of whether they are dead or not yet born,” Jürgen explained. “It may break their adoption secret as well.”


Vello noted that AI can help court judges deal with backlogs, prepare for cases, and possibly provide mediation services through automated robo-judging.

At the same time, automation bias, lack of transparency and coding issues pose significant challenges for robot judges, she said. This makes the use of AI more suitable for small claims.

At the same time, robo-judging has found use cases outside of the court process in Estonia. For instance, one Estonian company provides robot assistance for submitting claims in court, Vello highlighted.

Further, Estonia could also act as a “sandbox” to test robo-judges as the country already has a trove of digitised data, Vello said.

While the use cases for emerging tech in e-governance in Estonia are many, both Ullman and Jürgen noted that for these to be successful, and for data to be used ethically, there was a need for both political will and social agreement.

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