I was fascinated to listen yesterday to Toomas Hendrik Ilves, The president of Estonia, talking in London about the role of communications and technology in promoting innovation in a country.
Luckily for Estonia, Ilves was writing software at age 13 so from an early age he saw the potential!
As a result of his foresight he has led the transformation of Estonia. Everyone in the country now has encrypted access to every piece of information which the Government holds about them on-line. He stresses it is the individual’s data, not the Government’s data. You can vote on-line from anywhere in the world, look at your own medical records – which are your property – and refer your medical case on-line to a second expert.
You can register a company in only 18 minutes, sign legal documents and buy concert tickets using only one encrypted swipe card and password. Inevitably, it has made it much easier for businesses as well as individuals to spend time on what is productive and has encouraged much entrepreneurship and innovation.
The system is totally safe and, as he points out, relies on trust between citizens and government. But if the data is ‘owned’ by the citizen and he or she has control over what is added and taken away and who uses it, this establishes a much better starting point.
Lessons for other nations large and small.