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Estonia’s e-residency permits: an e-ssential?

  • 2014-12-03
  • By Richard Martyn-Hemphill

RIGA - Estonians are already well versed in e-governance: they have been able to vote online in their parliamentary elections since 2007. But as of Dec. 1 this year, Estonia is opening up some of its e-government services to the rest of the world with the introduction of its e-residency permits.

The idea is for international companies and individuals to register their passport or company data, including biometric information, with the Estonian government; and in return these individuals and companies will receive an Estonian digital identity — a “signature” — that makes your activity online easily verifiable and less liable to fraud.

This will give non-Estonian citizens, regardless of their citizenship in the physical world, access to some of the perks of Estonian e-government, such as the ability to register a company or create a bank in just one day, as well as having a world-leading cyber security network guarding their data. But they will not be given the rights of Estonian citizens  or even physical residency rights as a result.

“The request will be processed within ten working days, a security check is conducted, and if the applicant is sufficiently trustworthy to receive e-residency, a digital ID card will be made for him,”  said the board’s identity and status bureau manager Margit Ratnik.

“The applicant must personally go to the Police and Border Guard service station to receive the card.”
An e-resident of Estonia would not need to be a resident of Estonia in the physical world, and neither would they need to have permission to return to Estonia again after their initial visit, in which they would sign up at a police and border guard service station and successfully apply for e-residency. There are even plans to offer the e-permit application service at Estonia’s embassies around the world, which would mean you could become an e-resident of Estonia without ever having set foot in Estonia.

This gives foreigners an equal opportunity with the Estonian residents to use Estonia’s public and private e-services. And it has proved popular already: more than 13,000 people have registered for e-residency, and nearly 60 percent of them intend to use the card to simplify business procedures.

The first person to be awarded Estonian e-residency was Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist and a former editor of the Baltic Independent, the predecessor of the Baltic Times. He was chosen by the Estonian government as a result of his long-term support for the Estonian people.
“I’m delighted and honored to be chosen,” said Lucas, speaking to the Baltic Times by phone. “The introduction of e-permits in Estonia exemplifies the fact that Estonia has become a world leader in e-government. What I call the Eesti Express card is sure to catch on.”

When asked about the potential issues surrounding data security and privacy issues, Lucas replied that he would rather entrust his data to the Estonian government than to Google. “If someone loses your data at Google, they lose their job,” he said. “But if someone in the Estonian Government loses your data, they face the full force of the law.”