National ID cards got a boost with the announcement that Estonia – a tiny Baltic state that’s home to 1.3 million people – will begin issuing digital IDs to non-residents this year. Citizens there have gone largely digital in their day-to-day dealings with private businesses and the public sector.
A study on the use of digital identity by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in September 2011 noted that many countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East were investing in national electronic identification (e-ID) systems.
The report summarized that such systems offer a variety of benefits, like reducing identity theft and enabling secure transactions in industries like banking and health care. It also singled out Estonia as a leader in this effort – where citizens were already signing their names electronically, authenticating online transactions, and voting online.
Americans have been loath to embrace a national ID card, digital or not. Privacy concerns are prevalent, in spite of calls for such a card after the 9/11 attacks. The Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Cybersecurity recommended that the U.S “allow consumers to use government-issued credentials for online activities, consistent with protecting privacy and civil liberties.” The White House is working on this through the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.
In the meantime, upwards of 10 million people worldwide are expected to take advantage of an Estonian e-identity.
“This creates a unique opportunity to create a new set of remotely usable global services,” wrote Taavi Kotka on his blog. Kotka is a software developer and Estonia’s chief information officer.
He says the digital card will be a catalyst for economic growth, enabling foreign entrepreneurs and investors to easily conduct business inside the country. “E-residence provides a unique opportunity to create a globally innovative suite of public and private services that are usable irrespective of location,” Kotka wrote. “The state intends to create a fundamental platform for new business opportunities in this area.”