On The Atlantic, Sten Tamkivi looks at Estonia, possibly one of the only countries in the world that has embraced the digital era to create a very fluid, efficient and effective e-government. The system isn't just a few websites that allow people to "elect their parliament online or get tax overpayments back within two days of filing their returns," but an information infrastructure that was designed " from the ground up with openness, privacy, security, and future-proofing in mind."
A prime example is the income-tax declarations Estonians fill out. Quote marks are appropriate here, because when an average Estonian opens the submission form once a year, it usually looks more like a review wizard: next -> next -> next -> submit. This is because data has been moving throughout the year. When employers report employment taxes every month, their data entries are linked to peoples tax records too. Charitable donations reported by non-profits are recorded as deductions for the giver in the same fashion. Tax deductions on mortgages are registered from data interchange with commercial banks. And so forth. Not only is the income-tax rate in the country a flat 21 percent, but Estonians get tax overpayments put back on their bank accounts (digitally transferred, of course) within two days of submitting their forms.
This liquid movement of data between systems relies on a fundamental principle to protect peoples privacy: Without question, it is always the citizen who owns his or her data and retains the right to control access to that data. For example, in the case of fully digital health records and prescriptions, people can granularly assign access rights to the general practitioners and specialized doctors of their choosing. And in scenarios where they cant legally block the state from seeing their information, as with Estonian e-policemen using real-time terminals, they at least get a record of who accessed their data and when. If an honest citizen learns that an official has been snooping on them without a valid reason, the person can file an inquiry and get the official fired.
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