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Mayor Visits Tallinn City Secretary in Estonia to Obtain Successful Digitization Experiences

Taipei’s delegation in Estonia Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-Je and the city hall delegation's European tour brings them to Estonia, where they participated in a luncheon on January 17 with the central government's senior digitization officials. They also visited e-Estonia Briefing Center to listen to a presentation by the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA). In the afternoon, they paid a visit to Tallinn City Secretary Toomas Sepp and listened to a briefing by the E-Governance Academy.

When Mayor Ko visited the e-Estonia Briefing Center, he was received by Anett Numa, who not only introduced and demonstrated the system's operations, but also explained how the Estonian government protects its people's personal information, and how the citizens may examine any government department or agency's browsing history in order to make sure that their personal information is not used for illegal purposes.

According to Numa, the Estonian government has established the RIA to protect people's personal information. Since everyone expressed great interest in how voting is conducted in Estonia, Numa also showcased the country's simple voting page, designed in such a way that even 90-year-old senior citizens will be able to cast their vote by entering their first and second password. While voting, they will be shielded from other people's opinions or pressure; they have 7 days to vote, during which they may change their vote. This approach allows Estonians to vote without flying home, and the cost of each e-ballot is approximately €2.

Numa commented that since declaring independence, Estonia has undergone an adjustment period between the public and the government. She pointed out that Estonia has a population of 1.3 million, and its national territory is not the smallest in Europe. Due to its vast territory and sparse population, some islands only have a population of 50, therefore the government has strived to get them in touch with government organizations since 1991. However, the limited budget available compelled them to find new methods to overcome the problem, and the only solution was digitization. The legislature therefore promulgated relevant legislation to support the digitization initiative. Nonetheless, during the early stages, people's inability to purchase computers as a result of financial difficulty presented Estonia with another setback.

Numa elaborated that, at the time, there were no guidelines to refer to, and the Estonian government was not certain if the program would prevail. They believed, however, that education was the best investment, hence the government allocated resources to schools as a first step. Fortunately, the program eventually became successful, and its performance has proven to be at least double that of the other countries. Now, Estonia attracts nearly 10,000 international dignitaries every year to learn from its fruitful experience. Numa noted that with the adequate guidance and strategy, great things are bound to happen, so she encourages everyone to be bold, as courage will ultimately lead to victory.

Numa mentioned that Estonia is currently ranked second place in the world in terms of Internet freedom, with Iceland holding the top honor. Estonia ranks 5th globally in terms of cybersecurity, and they particularly value the protection of government information. Every Estonian citizen is issued a card that contains no confidential information because information like name, birthday, and ID number are all regarded as open information. The chip acts as a key that connects the cardholder to the cloud, where 2 sets of passwords are required to access the system. At present, marriage, divorce, and the purchase of real estate in Estonia still require conventional paperwork because of the discreet nature of these activities, therefore the digitization of the said services is still being studied.

In the afternoon of January 17, Mayor Ko and the city hall delegation visited Toomas Sepp at the Tallinn City Hall to listen to a briefing conducted by the Tallinn city government and understand how the government operates as well as the organizational structure of Tallinn city government. It was mentioned during the briefing that Estonian citizens are provided with a legal ID and digital ID (login with ID and digital signature) in order to verify the authenticity of the individual's identity. Moreover, the fantastic ID card system in Tallinn also reduces the use of paper; and 45% of Estonians can now cast their votes online.

In addition, the Tallinn city government offers multipurpose platforms for its citizens, and different databases have been developed to accommodate the needs of diverse groups. The archive management system of Tallinn is able to store information that can be used abroad, and all bills are processed digitally. On top of that, meeting planning and conference room booking can also be conducted in the cloud, so that everyone involved will be notified of the agenda 24 hours before the day of the meeting. However, such a system can sometimes create problems. The upside of the system is that it has done away with meeting minutes, and many issues can be resolved on the system. For instance, applying to organize major activities in Tallinn can be accomplished electronically.