"e-Estonia" is the term commonly used to describe Estonia's emergence as one of the most advanced e-societies in the world – an incredible success story that grew out of the partnership between a forward-thinking government, a pro-active ICT sector, and a switched-on, tech-savvy population. Thanks to this success, Estonians and the Estonian state enjoy a wide range of e-solutions that those living elsewhere can only dream about.
For citizens of Estonia, e-services have become routine: e-elections, e-taxes, e-police, e-healthcare, e-banking, and e-school. The "e" prefix for services has almost become trite in the sense that it has become the norm. Most Estonians would not even consider doing things the old-fashioned way, like physically visiting an office when the process could easily be completed online. The e-state gives people freedom – to spend time in the forest, the countryside, in our countless bogs, or even in Tallinn's famous Old Town. Almost any activity can be taken care of over the internet in just a few clicks.
Electronic ID card
As of January 2012, more than 1.1 million people in Estonia (almost 90% of inhabitants) have ID cards. The Estonian ID card serves as an identity document and, within the European Union, also as a travel document. In addition to its physical use, the card is also used as proof of ID when utilising online services. In other words, the ID card is the key to almost every innovative e-service in Estonia. Inside this small document is a chip that not only holds information about the card's owner, but also two certificates, one of which is used to authenticate identity and the second to render a digital signature. Thanks to its security, the card is used in many web environments where ID verification is needed. Internet banking, participation in e-elections, buying public transportation tickets, and much more can be accomplished using the electronic ID card. The ID card is secure, since PIN codes are also required for the card's operation.
In addition to the ID card, one can also use a mobile phone to identify oneself for online services. This is even more convenient since one doesn't need an ID card reader for the computer. A mobile phone can act as a card and a card reader at the same time.
E-services for citizens
Since 2005, everyone in Estonia has had the opportunity to vote electronically via the internet. Using an ID card or mobile ID , a voter may cast his vote from home or even while travelling abroad.
Estonian citizens can declare their income taxes electronically over the internet. Estonia's e-Tax Board offers a pre-completed form which makes it easy and fast to submit your tax return. The system identifies persons with the help of an ID card or mobile ID. A citizen must only log on to the e-tax system, check the information that is automatically assembled, make additions or changes (if necessary), and approve the declaration. The service has become so popular among Estonian residents that in 2012 over 94% of income tax declarations were presented through the e-tax system.
An entrepreneur may create a company in Estonia through a completely bureaucracy-free process directly at his personal computer. The e-business portal's record for the set-up and registration of a company is 18 minutes. Creating a company via the internet requires only an Estonian ID card, but the system also recognises ID cards from Belgium, Portugal, Lithuania, and Finland, and work is currently underway to enable increasing numbers of other nations' citizens to electronically register businesses in Estonia.
Citizens accustomed to the e-state also demand paperless solutions from the private sector. One of the best examples of this is banking. The expression "going to the bank" has all but disappeared from the Estonian language. An Estonian will generally "log in" to the bank instead. For ten years now, Estonians have not been required to physically visit the bank. Most people are unconcerned with what time the bank opens or closes or where it's located, since the internet bank is open 24 hours a day. Currently, 98% of banking transactions are conducted via the internet. Internet banking is safe, since identity is verified via an ID card or a mobile ID system. Both of these are many times more secure than the popular password card system, which Estonia still has in parallel use.
Only tourists buy paper tickets on Estonia's capital city's public transportation system. Locals buy their bus tickets via the internet and their virtual ticket is registered in their personal ID card, which can be checked by a card reader carried by conductors. Paper tickets have been almost completely consigned to the dustbin of history.
E-services in health care
On 1 January 2010, an IT solution was applied to Estonia's health care—a digital prescription system. In the past, patients had to carry paper prescriptions with them to the pharmacy. This system had several weaknesses: it was easy to lose the paper, the handwriting of the doctor could be illegible, etc. Electronic prescriptions have solved these problems because all prescriptions are sent to a central database. When the patient goes to the pharmacy, the pharmacist receives the prescription from the central database—there is no chance for the patient to lose the prescription or any risk that it might be unreadable.
In January of 2010 Estonia began using a medical information system with which people can view their own digital medical history. The system contains information on diagnoses, doctor's visits, tests, hospital treatments, medications prescribed by a doctor, etc. A person gains access to their information through the patient portal by confirming their identity using an ID card.
E-services in education
As of 2003, it is possible for all Estonian schools to use the web-based school-home communication environment e-School (eKool). The purpose of e-School is to engage parents more actively in the study process, make information on subjects more available to children as well as to parents, and to facilitate the work of teachers and the school management. For example, via e-School one can follow the marks given to students, their absence from classes, the content of lessons, and homework and assessments given to students by teachers at the end of the study period.
University via internet
At the end of high school, all Estonian students are required to take state exams. Exam results are input directly into the information system and every high school graduate may retrieve them through the state portal eesti.ee, or opt to receive the results via text message to a mobile telephone. Upon completing high school, students may submit applications to universities via the state's internet-based application system. The system unites the higher-education databases with the students' exam results, thus greatly simplifying the exchange of information between the user and the university.
The e-Governance Academy is a non-profit information society, development and analysis centre that aims to share Estonia's experience in the areas of e-government, e-democracy, and information technology education. More than 700 individuals from 36 different nations have come here to study, including representatives from Canada, Japan, Georgia, India, Namibia, and Pakistan. Estonian experience and knowledge have aided many nations in making their election processes more transparent, democratic, and less encumbered by bureaucracy.
Use of electronic services does not always require a computer. One can use his mobile phone to pay for parking his car (m-parking) by phoning a certain number or sending an SMS. To inform the parking controller that the payment is being effected by phone, an m-parking sticker is stuck on the windshield or the right-side window of the vehicle. The m-ticket service allows one to purchase a ticket on public transport without cash. It's possible to buy theatre tickets and pay at the grocery store using a mobile phone. M-services developed in Estonia have been successfully applied in other countries as well.
e-Estonia at a Glance
- 77% of the population aged 16-74 years uses the internet (Statistics Estonia, 2011).
- 71% of households have internet capabilities (Statistics Estonia, 2011).
- All Estonian schools are connected to the internet.
- Rapid wi-fi internet connections are available in more than 1100 public places; in many places that service is free of charge. The area of wi-fi internet is constantly growing and encompasses all of Estonia: www.wifi.ee
- 98% of banking transactions in Estonia are conducted through the internet.
- Income tax declarations can be made electronically via internet. In 2012, over 94% of income tax declarations were presented through the e-Tax Board.
- Expenditures made by the government can be followed on the internet in real time.
- Cabinet meetings have been changed to paperless sessions using a web-based document system.
- There are more mobile phone contracts than residents - 139 per 100 people (Estonian Competition Authority, 2011).
- Estonia is completely covered by digital mobile phone networks.
- According to the research undertaken by the World Economic Forum on the use of information technology in 142 countries (The Global Information Technology Report 2012 – The Network Readiness of Nations, www.weforum.org), Estonia ranks 24th in the Networked Readiness Index and is the highest-ranking Central and Eastern European country.