A few decades ago, the success story that is e-Estonia today was nothing but a dream. There was no data to show, the users had no internet or devices to use e-solutions with. By 2003, the situation had changed and Estonia opened a state portal through which citizens and businesses could use all the national e-services. We were essentially the first country where such a state portal was born.
Taimar Peterkop, Director of General State Information System Authority
Over the past decade, that state portal has been the central gateway through which citizens have been able to deal with the state and local authorities. The portal is visited on average 7,000 times a day. How did Estonia achieve this and what comes next?
Firstly, thanks to the ID-card, it was possible to log in securely via the internet. Many countries have been struggling with the issue of securely identifying their citizens in an e-environment. In Estonia, the ID-card is a mandatory document for every citizen. That enabled us to resolve the remote-identification issue several years earlier than other countries.
Secondly, the state portal relies on X-Road, which we also refer to fondly as e-Estonia’s backbone. X-Road is a secure connection environment between state registries and databases. Public authorities need X-Road to make inquiries.
Around the turn of the millennium, a decision was made not to build super-databases or to assemble sensitive data in one single place. Each agency maintains its own databases and registers (or has these allocated to a private company). When the need and the opportunity arose to create a way for citizens to view all nationally maintained data, then eesti.ee became the gateway through which they would be able to reach numerous databases and registers. The best way to comply with the Personal Data Protection Act was to allow everyone to check both the accuracy of their data and to monitor the practical use of that data.
The next step towards the future
The current architecture of the state portal has served Estonia well, and has evolved to become one of the world’s most successful e-communities. As the average lifetime of an IT system is up to ten years, the time has now come to renew one of the most important cornerstones of e-Estonia.
Over the past five years, the perception of how a well-designed information system should look to the viewer has changed. We are not merely talking about art here – the colour or the shape of a button – but rather the logic of the portal. How can you find what you need as quickly as possible? How can you group similar or repetitive tasks?
The main role of the state portal is to be an information directory that ensures that the user can reach the necessary service easily and quickly. In that, the user should not have to worry about exactly which public system offers that information at that given moment. And of course, national e-solutions must create user-friendly experiences across all modern devices.
The most important part of any portal is its services. The desire to bring practical e-government services under the umbrella of eesti.ee has led to a significant increase in the number of partners involved with the state portal. As the number of services added to the national portal increased, it became clear that the portal could no longer act as part of the information system for the institutions but should instead become an information directory, providing the citizen an overview of what the state knows about him or her, as well as his or her entitlements or obligations, on the basis of the data known to the state.
It is important to make the environment as user-friendly as possible. This means, for example, that once users have logged in with their electronic ID card, they won’t need to authenticate themselves repeatedly when moving between different services.
When introducing Estonia’s e-solutions in foreign countries, we have sometimes heard an unexpected view: why should citizens ever trust their country? Fortunately, this is not a problem – Estonian citizens trust their country and value their sovereignty. This is our own country – who else should we trust?!
But trust can’t be built on verbal statements alone. How can citizens be sure that the authorities haven’t abused their data? The Personal Data Protection Act states that citizens must have control over the use of their data, and the portal offers this opportunity.
After having logged in to the state portal, citizens must be able to access as much information as possible about who has reviewed their data and in what circumstances. At present, this option exists only for selected databases, but given the importance of this functionality in an e-society, such transparency is increasing.
Current blog is created according to the action plan for promoting the E-Estonia´s reputation.
The action plan for promoting the E-Estonia´s reputation has been developed and it’s partial implementation is coordinated by the European Union Structural Assistance support scheme “Raising awareness of the Information Society”, funded by the European Regional Development Fund.