E-government in Estonia
Estonia has build advanced electronic services for their citizens, and basically moved their entire administration into the cloud (which also makes it territory independent, along the lines of running your national administration as an operating system bootable from a USB stick.) Most of the services you need as a citizen are electronic now. At the core of this e-government service package is you electronic ID. This is what allows you to use those services, and also shows who else has been accessing data about you. Now that everything is digital, it also becomes possible to offer those services to non-citizens. This is what Estonia calls e-residency: an electronic resident having access to Estonian e-services.

You can be an E-resident in Estonia too!
Estonia is the first country in the world to offer ‘e-residency’, meaning you get an Estonian electronic ID card. This does not make you a citizen of Estonia, but it does allow you to use their advanced e-government services. Providing non-citizens e-residency is a bold new step. Now you and I can use Estonian e-services, if those are more convenient to us. This is amazing really, especially if, like Peter Bihr notes, your own government is not up to that level of service at all. Like Ben Hammersley puts it Estonia as “a nation is now competing with its neighbours on the basis of the quality of its user interface“.

Since the fall of 2014 anyone can apply for Estonian e-residency. Until April 2015 you had to visit the Estonian border police in Estonia itself to do that (and 1200 or so did!), but since then you can arrange everything through an Estonian Embassy or Consulate near you. Originally you had to visit twice. Once to apply, and once (after background checks) to pick up your ID card and login credentials. Since May it only takes 1 visit, the rest you do online!

I have applied to be an e-resident
I have been on a mailing list of the Estonian government since last fall to alert me to new developments. They already promised then that online application and 1 visit to embassy would be possible by December 2015 and “likely sooner”. As it was unlikely I would be visiting Estonia (although I enjoyed my 2013 visit to speak at TedXTallinn very much) in the meantime, I planned to wait for that online application. When the alert arrived in May I was busy traveling, and basically have been traveling until last weekend when we returned from a month in Italy.

But now, finally, last Monday, I went to the e-Estonia website to apply. I uploaded a scan of my passport, and a scan of a recent passport photo, and filled out some information (basically the info that is in the passport), I selected the Estonian Embassy in The Hague as where I want to pick up my ID, and I paid the 50,99 Euro processing fee through secure online credit card payment.
Currently they have a bit of a waiting list they said, because of lots of interest, so it may take a month to get processed. [UPDATE]: I received a message my application has been granted 10 days after submitting it. [UPDATE 2]: I received confirmation that my e-ID is ready for pick-up 3 weeks after submitting the request. Will pick it up in 2 weeks, when I visit The Hague.

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-03 om 12.46.49
Confirmation e-mail of e-residency application

So now what?
What can you do with Estonian e-residency? Four services are currently available to e-residents that aren’t citizens. Register a business, do secure online banking, administer a business, and digitally sign documents and contracts. If, unlike me, you’re not an European Union citizen, this also means e-residency allows you to easily enter the European common market. For me all four of those services are of interest.

You access all those services through Ervinal, the Estonian e-government dashboard. You can see below how that looks. If you are a citizen, or reside in Estonia, such a dashboard will show you all kinds of other things as well concerning education, pension, your car, healthcare etc.

Ervinal screenshot
Screenshot (mocked-up with my pic) of the Ervinal e-service dashboard

The X-bus as architecture
I’m professionally involved with the creation of National Data Infrastructures in various European countries. Several countries are creating such things, but they may have different starting points. In Denmark and the Netherlands internal efficiency and a layer of open data is the core, with geodata, businesses and persons being the key data sets. In the UK (which does not have a person register), the entire system is more focussed on semantics, and interfacing between government branches.

The Estonian system is e-government service and citizen oriented and that makes persons and electronic ID the very core of the entire set-up. They have an exchange bus called X-Road, where any other service (including private entities such as banks and telecom operators, or you if you are developing a web-app) can share data based on a person and electronic ID as key. Estonia established X-road in 2002, and there is a European project to make that available and interoperable in other EU countries as well. In 2013, X-Road processed 287 million queries in Estonia, or about 220 queries per Estonian citizen.

All data is decentralized, and the person concerned can see how the data is being shared and with whom (including a redress mechanism if you don’t agree). This is very different from e.g. the Netherlands, where my role as the citizen being described by the data is not defined at all, and the entire system is set up around internal processes about me, but not with me.

Xroad
X-Road schematics, image taken from X-road.eu

Hack your e-residency!
The Estonian government is inviting you to co-develop the services that are available as an e-resident. In September a Garage 48 idea and hack session will take place, to “think outside borders” and put e-residency on the global map.