The e-citizen

23 Oct

NS 2991: E-citizens unite: Estonia opens
its digital borders
* 17 October 2014 by Hal Hodson

[Leader: “Estonia’s e-citizen test is a test
for us all”]

Estonia has invited people to register as e-residents – a step
towards a world where a person’s identity
online matters just as
much as their identity offline

ESTONIA flung open its digital borders last
week. The eastern
European country invited anyone,
anywhere, to open a bank account or
start a business. By the end of the year,
anyone with an internet
connection will be able to live their
financial life in Estonia, all
without being physically present.

Such e-residency, as it is known, is a step
towards a world where a
person’s online identity matters just as
much as their offline
identity; where the location of data, rather
than documents, is more

“This is the beginning of the erosion of the
classic nation state
hegemony, ” says John Clippinger, a digital
researcher at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. “It’s going
to get whittled away from the margins.”

Max Ischenko – a Ukrainian entrepreneur
who runs a job site called
Djinni – is signing up. “It’s very complicated
to do business from
Ukraine,” he says. “For instance, I can’t
sign up for Paypal
Business payments, because it’s not

Crucially, Estonia offers firms a foothold in
the European Union
single market. Taavi Kotka, the Estonian
government’s chief
information officer, says they are aiming to
have 10 million
non-Estonian e-residents signed up by
2025. More than 4000 are
already lining up.

Getting e-residency in Estonia will require
going there to have your
identity verified – and fingerprints and face
biometrics taken by
border police. But Kotka says they are
working on letting people
sign up at Estonian embassies. For
Estonia, embassies will no longer
just be about extending the country’s
physical presence into other
countries – but about extending their digital
reach too.

E-residents don’t get citizenship in the
traditional sense – they
can’t apply for passports and visas, or vote
in elections. But Kotka
acknowledges that if all goes as planned,
the new cohort of
e-Estonians will have to have a say in any
future changes to the
country’s corporate tax structures, for
instance, and perhaps more.

“Imagine that thanks to e-residency we
have 100,000 new companies.
That means we have more companies run
by e-residents than by people
physically in Estonia,” says Kotka. It makes
sense that e-citizens
should have a say if the government wants
to change tax laws, for

Estonia already has the world’s most
advanced internet voting system
– votes were cast online by Estonians living
in 98 different
countries in elections earlier this spring.
Kotka says they could
easily extend the system to let e-residents
vote from anywhere in
the world.

Clippinger thinks Estonia’s move will create
a market in which
countries compete for digital citizenry.
More flexible rules on
starting businesses around the world may
open the door to more fluid
livelihoods – our homes may be in one
country while our job and bank
accounts are in another. This is already
happening to an extent, but
programmes like Estonia’s promise to
accelerate the trend.

Nor is it all business. “Given where things
are going with the US
National Security Agency, backdoors and
control over personal data,
I think this could be a starting point for
people who don’t trust
their own governments,” Clippinger says.

This article appeared in print under the
headline “E-citizens unite”
—Leader: Estonia’s e-citizen test is a test for
us all
* 15 October 2014

The Baltic minnow’s bold experiment with
digital residency could
help us understand what comes after the
nation state

FANCY becoming an Estonian? There are
plenty of reasons why you
would. The tiny Baltic country is a
technology powerhouse, with
digital infrastructure as good as anywhere,
online elections and
compulsory coding classes. Now some of
the benefits its 1.3 million
citizens enjoy are open to all: Estonia will
let anyone become an
e-resident (see “E-citizens unite: Estonia
opens its digital

E-residency isn’t citizenship – you won’t be
able to vote, or move
there unless you are already entitled to. But
it will allow you to
access Estonia’s excellent online services,
such as banking and the
incorporation of companies. These
currently require a physical
address, but will soon be as easy as
opening an email account.

Estonia’s move offers a tantalising hint of a
new world order that
transcends the nation state. At present
many of the services we are
entitled to are an accident of where we
were born. But when the
functions of the state shift online, there’s
no longer a reason to
restrict them to physical residents. Soon,
digital residency could
become as important, if not more so.

And digital residency can be a matter of
choice. In the market that
will emerge, even cities will compete. Paris
has already shown an
interest in allowing outsiders to become e-Parisians.

How this will all play out is unclear. Once
more people are
e-residents than actually live within a
country’s borders, who gets
to vote? Who pays taxes? Does a country
even need a physical
location any more?

It is hard to come up with answers to these
questions, in part
because concepts of nationality and
nationhood are so deeply
ingrained in how we see ourselves and the
world. But these concepts
are a relatively recent invention in response
to the upheavals of
the industrial revolution (New Scientist, 6
September, p 30).

Though it is widely agreed that the nation
state model has begun to
outlive its usefulness, what will follow is
not at all obvious. The
experiments in Estonia and Paris may point
the way.

This article appeared in print under the
headline “The e-citizen


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