TALLINN - Estonia recently became the first country in the world to support "mobile phone voting," a widely-misunderstood extension of e-voting, after Parliament approved legislation permitting the new authentication method for use in the 2011 government elections.
Parliament endorsed the new system, dubbed 'm-voting,' on Nov. 11, prompting a wave of interest and speculation across the globe. Already considered one of the world's most e-savvy states, Estonia's technology-friendly government is now being accredited with pioneering one of the world's most accessible voting systems.
The current hype, however, appears to be anchored on false assumptions.
Last year Estonia set a new voting precedent with the introduction of an e-voting system for general elections, whereby voters could 's through purchase of an ID card reader 's register their vote online. The program was hailed a success, as despite the fact that only 3.5 percent of voters opted to use the online method, no security breaches were reported.
However, it seems that global news coverage of Estonia's m-voting system is off the mark. An array of news wire services and international media outlets have reported that the legislation will enable Estonians to vote via their mobile phone 's a claim which runs contradictory to government statements.
Priit Vinkel, an advisor at the government's election department, told The Baltic Times that the term 'mobile voting' is inaccurate, as the technology is effectively an extension to e-voting.
Rather than enabling citizens to cast their vote by text message, m-voting 's or m-ID as the government terms it 's allows users to authenticate themselves for e-voting using their phone rather than the existing ID card reader.
"It is really important to understand that when talking of m-ID voting we cannot talk of mobile voting. The mobile phone is used only as a technical token or means for identification of the person," said Vinkel.
Essentially, m-voting means voters can apply for a free ID SIM from the SK Certification Center, which also issues national ID cards, and can then use their phones for e-voting identification and authentication 's providing an alternative to buying an ID card reader.
"It is not possible to vote by using only a mobile phone, you have to sit behind a computer with Internet access and you use your mobile with a certificate-equipped SIM-card for identification and authentication," Vinkel said.
Far from being the voting revolution touted by the press, Vinkel said it was uncertain who is likely to take advantage of the system.
"It is really hard to predict who is likely to use this possibility. At the moment only one service provider has made it possible to obtain these special SIM cards 's the company EMT," he said.
When e-voting was introduced last year there was abundant skepticism about the system's security, but these concerns were put to rest after no problems were reported.
The concept of m-voting has sparked fresh security concerns from the international press, based solely on a misconception of the technology. According to the government, the risks will be no different from e-voting.
"It has been stated that the security issues with m-ID is comparable with the issues of the ID-card," said Vinkel.