I was told yesterday, by Latvians, that Estonians are slow people - however, the very same Latvians acknowledge that Estonia is 5 years ahead of Latvia in many areas. Following the example of neighbouring Finland, Estonia has heavily invested in informatics infrastructure. Wireless internet is available in the vicinity of over 1,000 registered public hotspots, located in cities, villages, bars restaurants, trains, buses and highways, you can get online wherever you want: Estonia has embraced the internet. As a logical result, papers, rubber stamps and bureaucracy have been replaced or rather, supplemented, by web-based services.
Tarmo (27, photo) is my host in Tartu. He shows me the Estonian ID-card, which has a chip on it. The card doesn`t only serve for visual verification by border officers, it is also a digital passport which can be used for many different purposes. For electronic banking, for tax declarations and for voting. The card can be inserted into a special reader, and subsequently used on any computer. And, as stated above, the card can be used for travelling anywhere within the European Union. A paper passport is still needed to travel to countries outside the EU.
`Estonia has well-developed system for e-banking and e-government services`
Marek (28) is one out of many people to use the ID-card for banking and voting. He explains that the card readers were very cheap when they were introduced, in order to get people to adopt the new system. Marek only initiates payments from his own computer, never from another one, scared of identity theft which may become a big problem in the future. Fortunately, the Estonian authorities do not oblige people to carry identification at all times, which makes it possible to leave the card in a safe place at home. Darola (19) does take it with her a lot, especially when she goes out. `I use it to prove my age when going to clubs.
Using Timo (20) does not regularly use the internet or the ID-card. `I sometimes to download music, but that`s about it`. The main advantage he sees for the ID-pass is that it easily fits in a wallet, just like the new driving licence. He uses his normal paper passport for travelling and his debit bank card for transfers. Nevertheless, he doesn`t often see a bank building from the inside. Many cash machines in Estonia can also be used to make wire transfers or bank deposits. Timo is happy to use those whenever needed.
Tanel (21) and Maarja (20) do use internet banking, but they are using static access codes instead of the ID-card. Tanel thinks that the ID-card will eventually become a real all-in-one card: passport, driving licence, payment card, you name it. Tanel likes that idea, Maarja does not: `What if you lose your card, you will also lose your identity.` To which Tanel replies: `it can`t be worse than what happens when you lose your wallet now`.
The rapid growth of internet connections has helped Estonia catch up with Western Europe at high speed. While other Central European countries still struggle with the paperwork heritage of the Soviet Union, Estonia makes it possible for everybody to hook up to the internet. And even to those who have no internet, smart solutions help paperwork reduced to a minimum. Telephone bills, energy, rent: all are likely to be paid electronically - either at ATMs, or on the internet. You can vote online for parliamentary elections, and there is even a mobile version on the way. From voting, to E-voting, to M-voting.
Older people or those who do not want to participate in the virtual world are, for now, safe: as long as there are still paper alternatives for everything.
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