"The pilot project will hopefully start early in the 21st century," said Kaja Kuivjogi, ID cards project manager and deputy director of the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Department.
At the moment Estonian passports serve three purposes. They are used to prove identity, citizenship and to cross state borders. Elsewhere in the world, passports are used for one or two purposes because there are other documents as well.
According to Kuivjogi, the new ID cards will be more practical and also cheaper. "Many won't need a new expensive passport unless they travel outside the European Union. This suits the numerous Estonian pensioners, who will look into cheaper options," Kuivjogi said.
People are using many different plastic cards, which Kuivjogi said have become irrational and inconvenient.
"The ID card will have fulfilled the expectations, if the number of cards people use is reduced by three times," Kuivjogi said.
To achieve that, there has to be good cooperation between banks, state departments and other Estonian companies that have issued plastic cards. According to Kuivjogi, the basic card systems need to be integrated so one card can be used within different systems.
"A multifunctional card will need to be customer friendly," Kuivjogi said.
According to Kuivjogi, a Smart Card would be the most suitable option for Estonia, so the cards would not expire even five years after issue.
Kalev Pihl, technical manager of the ID cards project, said an on-line system providing maximum security will be used for the Smart Cards.
"People themselves are the main source of mistakes, and the on-line system, which immediately registers any transaction, helps to avoid these mistakes, Pihl said. "The most common misuses result from the card ownerÕs carelessness."
Multiple plastic card owners tend to write the access code right on the card, and if the card is lost or stolen, other people have easy access to the possibilities the cards provide.
Currently no certain decision has been made on what the cards would finally look like, nor have the project organizers chosen the method of authentication.
The organizers have put up a web site (www.id.ee) to carry out a small survey of public opinion.
"There will be no referendum to vote on the project's necessity, but we'll try to examine the public opinion by initiating extensive discussions," Pihl said.
According to Kuivjogi, the final design and technological solution will depend on different organizations' requirements, as most of the project expenditures will be used to integrate card systems of banks, stores and state organizations.
The organizers allocated 0.5 million kroons ($35,700) for this year and 1-2 million kroons for 1999 to develop the project.
"We are hoping to reduce the pilot project and research expenses to the minimum by observing the same projects in Finland and Sweden," Kuivjogi said. "We try to learn from their experience and mistakes."
The Finnish government is willing to finance the ID cards project in Estonia, Pihl said.
According to Kuivjogi, the Latvian and Lithuanian governments have also discussed the ID cards system and Latvia has even decided on starting a similar project soon, but is has ruled out the Smart Card, as it is technologically too expensive.