Kaspar Korjus is the man heading Estonia’s hottest idea after Skype. It is called e-Residency and may well transform how the world does business via the secure digital identity.
Daniel Vaarik talked to Kaspar Korjus, e-Residency Program Director, about the bold idea behind e-Residency.
Should I call you 38712012796?!
You could say that this is my middle name! In Estonia, everyone has a unique digital ID and ID number which is used for interacting with government and doing business, amongst other things. Now we have opened the system to the entire world. People from practically every country can become e-residents and use our government e-services, start location-independent businesses and so forth.
What does the head of a country’s e-Residency program do on a day-to-day basis?
My job is to develop and improve the Estonian virtual business environment and its e-services, while keeping in mind the needs of e-residents and their desires. I am also constantly looking for ways to scale our technology and make it available to anyone in the world who would like to have a digital identity on the internet. Furthermore, I am constantly on the look-out for partners to develop e-services on our e-Residency platform.
Last time I checked, I could also get a workable digital identity from Google, Facebook and some other global services, so why bother building yet another one?
It is not the same. Some relationships need a much stronger level of certainty that a person is who she or he claims to be. For example, those involved in financial services, business, and various government services. E-residents get an identity − a digital face that is verified by Estonian government.
A digital identity opens different doors from those of a physical identity, since it is location- independent and hassle-free. It has become a natural part of every-day life in Estonia and we believe that it will become more and more natural worldwide as well.
Why do you need partners?
Our platform is like an app store or a marketplace of e-services. Currently it has some important basic e-services, like authentication and the ability to start a location independent company in Estonia and run it from anywhere in the world. New e-services are being added all the time, but in order to really scale we need developers who recognize e-Residency as a major disruption in government thinking to join in. We already have our first partners who are developing their own e-services, but we need more.
For developers and partners, one advantage of working with us is that we are very open and easy to collaborate with. We also have clear values that ensure that we will not misuse e-residents’ trust or indeed that of our partners.
What is the ‘big picture’ idea that could grow out of Estonia’s e-Residency program?
People say that governments are lousy service providers. Agile startups looking to ‘move fast and smash paradigms’ always seem to run into bureaucratic models of governance which have developed over the centuries. This confrontation is partially necessary since governments can’t fail in the way startups are allowed to, but certainly something needs to change. In Estonia we are developing a ‘country as a service’ model or CAAS which can lead the way, and hopefully become a standard for how governments relate to people and businesses as well. This approach is only going to catch on if we have openness, transparent values, and committed partners.
In the big picture, the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020 there will be one billion new internet users. Seventy-three per cent of these people are effectively financially excluded. We need a solution that will help these people get reliable digital identities and become financially included, so that they can use services and start businesses. People will be defined not by where they happened to be born, but by their intentions, drives and goals. Using Wikipedia and other public sources is a valuable experience, but the real empowerment happens when you can participate in the global economy.
How can Estonia prevent misuse of personal data?
First, we are building certain values into our system architecture. For example everyone can see when their data has been accessed by someone. Second, we rely on mathematics in building the best possible cryptography.