What Canada Plans to Learn From Estonia

Vordik Team

Given Canada’s recent focus on the digitization of government services – including the appointment of a Minister of Digital Government – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the government is busy assessing the role technology can play in civil service.

What is a surprise? One country they’re trying to emulate is, at first glance, out of left field – Estonia.

Believe it or not, this small Baltic country was the first nation to allow citizens to vote online, which it has done since 2005. Numerous other services are available through a centralized digital portal, including access to medical records and business information.

Doubling down on data breaches

In January, Canadian MP Bob Zimmer revealed that the House of Commons privacy committee plans to visit the country and see what some people are calling “E-Stonia” firsthand.

“I don’t know if the Estonian model is possible, but we’re definitely interested,” said Zimmerman in a statement. “It’s got us very intrigued, how they preserve the sanctity of personal data. That’s always something we want to see.”

In fact, Estonia has been embracing blockchain technology for over a decade as a tool to combat cyber attacks. Blockchain is operational in many of their online registries, including judicial, legislative, security and public health.

As cyber attacks become increasingly sophisticated, Estonia has developed its cyber security defenses even further, and is working on intrusion detection and protection systems for digital data. The country is home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, where it continues to establish itself as a leader in global cyber defence.

Digitization leads to happy citizens

It’s not just cyber security and data protection that benefit from government embracing the digital landscape. It’s also the day-to-day-lives of people.

“I don’t think governments think of themselves as being in the customer service business, but they are,” Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told media. He said that in addition to issues like data privacy, embracing digital has the potential to ease residents’ frustrations when it comes to some aspects of government, like renewing passports or submitting taxes.

For example, the Estonian system features a “once only” policy, meaning the government can’t ask for data that has already been provided to other departments. They also use a Digital ID system, which is encrypted and allows citizens to access services without having to physically sign government forms. Using the ID, residents can log into the central portal and access records and services. They can also see who has access this information, which provides a level of government transparency.

What does this mean for Canada?

According to Erskin-Smith, government officials will travel to Estonia in the spring of 2019 for further discussions about how to implement some of these systems in Canada. What the government ultimately chooses to implement is anyone’s guess, but it’s an issue that’s worth keeping tabs on.

It signals that digital optimization is increasingly important to Canadians, whether it’s for dealing with something as large and bureaucratic as the government or as small as stocking up on pantry supplies. If you’re a Canadian business and you haven’t embraced your company’s digital presence, now is the time.

Whether it’s hiring a web development company to overhaul your site or exploring secure innovations to protect your data, there are many ways to invest and enhance your company’s digital foundations.