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In July 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a very close, landmark referendum that divided the country. Many remain voters are deeply unhappy with the decision and people are looking at ways of continuing to be an ‘EU Citizen’, utilising Irish or European parentage to obtain a passport, moving abroad or, innovatively, by mounting a high-profile legal case. Alternatively, you could become an Estonian E-Citizen.
After joining the EU in 2004, the Estonian government embarked on a major programme to introduce E-Residency to any person in the world. The goal of this was not to increase their population, but to increase the number of enterprises registered in Estonia and drive global interest in their economy. E-Citizens can register their business in Estonia and benefit from the advantages of having a business based in the European Union.
Situated on the Baltic coast, Estonia restored its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has been fervently rebuilding its weakened economy, infrastructure and global image ever since. Estonia was left with a weak communication network, with less than 50% of its citizens having telephone lines in their homes. The Estonian government decided that a cornerstone of their new economy should be a strong digital foundation, with internet access and online services available to all. As an Estonian citizen, you can bank, vote, register a marriage, manage your taxes or contact a government representative all online, in a paper free environment. This world-leading digital policy has opened up global discussion on adopting digital frameworks to help combat bureaucracy and inefficiency and increase the quality of public services.
The historic town centre of Tallinn
Despite having this open-minded and groundbreaking approach, there are still issues such as cybercrime and the potential for more personal data and ‘digital breadcrumbs’ to be stored online. Estonia has established a solid approach to online security to match their digital approach and Estonian citizens have access to online data which may not be as readily available in other countries. For example in the UK, tracking data on Tesco’s customers, including spending habits and locations visited is owned by Tesco and cannot be accessed by the general public. This is not the case in Estonia, where citizens can manage what digital information from their daily lives is stored online. However, in countries without these digital privileges, it makes sense to stay safe when carrying out personal administration over the internet.
If you are inputting sensitive information online, such as your name and address or banking details, avoid phishing scams that mimic official web pages. Never give your information over an unsecured connection (check for a padlock, https: prefix or green ‘verified’ box in your browser search bar).
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will also add an extra layer of security, by encrypting transmitted data and providing access to the internet through a private network. VPNs are a must have when submitting sensitive data across the world, especially within territories unlike Estonia where digital security may not be so advanced. There are various VPN paid services and sites such as BestVPN.com provide detailed information and hands-on reviews on several individual examples.
Other simple steps can be taken to ensure online safety, including creating complex and hard to guess passwords and changing them regularly. Always keep your antivirus software up to date, as this may help you out when a malicious website or unsafe connection is detected.
Viru Gate in Tallinn, Estonia!
It may seem that Estonia began running before they could walk, but the hard work and backing by tech experts has meant that they have achieved global recognition for the quality of online services and ease of access that its citizens have, as well as the e-residency programme. The UK government has taken some significant steps to make online services better, including an overhaul of the gov.uk gateway and improved digital access at job centres and council registration offices. It will be interesting to see how much further online services will develop in the UK and whether we can come close to the commitment that Estonia has made to a digital future.