How beneficial are digital services for most democracies in the world?

Cowering from the wind on the upper platform of the Sõrve Lighthouse at the westernmost point of Estonia, journalist Ronald Liive directs the camera out to sea with one hand and fiddles with his laptop with the other. Most democracies have digital services.

Digital Services in most democracies

Digital services are highly beneficial. Liive’s point was to show how easy it is in Estonia to cast your vote from anywhere, even from a remote peninsula jutting into the Baltic Sea. And when he recasts it the following day (until polls close, Estonians can vote again to override their previous choice) where he lives, he says will likely do so without bothering to leave his house.

Most democracies around the world, the US included, are still debating whether online voting is viable, or even a good idea at all. But Estonian residents have been able to vote online since 2005. They can still line up in the rain to check the box in person if they so desire, but almost half of the population chooses to vote online instead.

And voting is just one example of how taking time to visit a government office in person is a fool’s errand in Estonia. Thanks to an online system built around every resident having a digital identification – which uses a single login to access every government service and gives them a legally-binding digital signature – everything from filing taxes to registering the birth of a child can be done in mere minutes from the comfort of their own home.

Estonia’s ability to free its people from the burden of having to physically show up serves as a potential model for what you stand to gain from going entirely digital. While there were some unique traits that enabled Estonia to make a successful transition, there are plenty of lessons other countries could take as they ponder a bigger digital presence.

Benefits of Digital Public Services

The benefits of Estonia’s digital public services are many, starting with the amount of money it saves the country – an estimated 2% of its GDP. That enables it to afford an army, said former digital government adviser Marten Kaevats, which is essential in a NATO member country that borders Russia. The Baltic state, which has a population of just 1.3 million, regained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 and has a large Russian minority. Or, as Kaevats puts it: “We are a small country at the gates of Mordor.”

Estonian residents also save time and energy on dreaded life admin tasks using digital services they trust. Whereas services created by the private sector – Facebook and TikTok, for example – are built to maximize the time and attention we give them, Estonia’s are built to do the opposite, said Kaevats. Instead, the less time you spend within these systems, the better.

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