Keynote Address by H.E. Mr. Urmas Paet, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estonia
Seoul Conference on Cyberspace 2013
Plenary Session 3
17 October 2013
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Ladies and gentlemen,
over the past two decades in Estonia, the internet has become increasingly important for promoting innovation as well as for our economic competitiveness, and collective well-being. It's a simple fact - where business is easy, business will grow. Services in the private sector such as internet banking and digital signatures have cut costs and sped up trade like never before. In Estonia, we are seeing 35 million digital signatures per year. This makes up a week’s worth of time for a single person in just a year. Likewise – public sector solutions used in Estonia, like electronic tax filing, electronic voting at elections, e-business registry and the availability of public records online have decreased bureaucratic waste to a bare minimum. The main backbone of Estonia’s e-services is X-Road – the environment that allows the state's various databases and registers, both in the public and private sector, to link up and operate seamlessly.
The free flow of data and services can have huge economic potential; companies with international ambitions and activities, as well as people, would clearly benefit from e-commerce or public services that move easily across borders. That is why Estonia has shared its experience with e-services, especially X-Road, worldwide. We have also initiated a cooperation project with our northern neighbor, Finland.
The latter aims to improve data exchange and bring the movement of services between our two countries to the next level. Just to give you one example: digital signatures or electronic tax operations that are valid in a cross-border framework would save a lot of time and money for everyone. Our cooperation with Finland could become an example of the first functioning cross-border e-services and we hope it serves as an example for the whole of Europe and other parts of the world.
In order to contribute to the same positive trend internationally, we should improve connectivity, particularly in the developing world. Digital capacity building offers some of the best return on investment in development cooperation. Estonia has been active in sharing its expertise with partners around the world for several years already. The Estonian E-Governance Academy has worked with many states that wish to build up e-solutions similar to those in Estonia. As the Millennium Development Goals come to an end, the importance of new technologies and e-services is something to keep in mind as we frame the post-2015 development agenda.
Advancing and developing the ICT skills of citizens is fundamental for building a global information society and addressing the digital divide. Therefore ICT education in Estonia is treated as integral part of the curriculum at all levels of education. Thanks to government-backed technology investment, all schools in Estonia were connected to the internet by the late 1990s. This was followed by a project to teach programming from the very first grade of school. The latter aims to enhance mathematical thinking and to put newly acquired skills into practice in a fascinating way, for example by programming robots.
In parallel with developing digital governance and e-services, it is equally important to establish security of these applications. This is fundamental not only to national security, but also to protecting the rights of our citizens and the economic wellbeing of our markets, thereby enabling them to operate with confidence. Estonia has put lot of effort into its cyber security infrastructure by treating the issue of cyber security as an enabler for both, economic growth and regional integration. The benefits of digitalized society can only be achieved if identities are secure. In Estonia, the government has become the guarantor of online transactions while identity is authenticated by a body independent of the government. We use a two-factor identification system in which the ID is protected by both a chip and a password. A binary key or public key infrastructure guarantees securely encrypted transfer of information.
More than any other country, Estonia has invested into digitizing various aspects of modern life, including banking, education, and healthcare. However, by using a verifiable and reliable identification system, our citizens have benefitted from these processes without sacrificing either their security or their privacy. Even throughout the duration of the 2007 cyber attacks, the fundamental integrity of our system remained uncompromised.
At a time when the greatest threats to our privacy and to the security of our data come from criminal hackers and when financial damage caused by cybercrime is reported to be enormous, it is even more important to have joint resistance to such activity by governments. The 2001 Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime – the Budapest Convention - remains, so far, the only legally binding international instrument in the world that addresses cybercrime. The more countries accede to it, the more functional our joint efforts in countering this challenge become. Estonia continues to support the application of the Convention. We recently made a donation to the Council of Europe’s anti-cybercrime project, which is dedicated to introducing the Convention more widely and assisting countries with its ratification and application.
Estonia takes cyber security seriously. This is illustrated by the fact that we are drafting already our second cyber security strategy for 2014-2017. In addition, we are proud hosts of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence and provide over half of its funding. The centre is an international interdisciplinary research organization that supports NATO nations and its partners with cyber security expertise, educational and training resources and assistance in policy development.
It is Estonia’s strong belief that internet can be both, secure and free. I cannot agree with the argument that human rights and political liberties apply only in “real life” and “cyberspace” requires different laws and principles altogether. Cyberspace is real and virtual freedom of expression is nothing other than a basic human right. Free and open access to the internet contributes to economic development. The World Bank governance indicators from 2011 have proven that there is a clear correlation between economic growth and different forms of freedom, including the freedom of expression.
Supporting freedom of expression and personal privacy online is a principle we also uphold at the international level. Estonia is a founding member and this year also the coordinator of the Freedom Online Coalition – an informal like-minded group of states that works for supporting internet freedom.
On April 28 and 29 2014 we will be welcoming the ministers of the member states of the Freedom Online Coalition, as well as all other interested stakeholders, in Tallinn at a high-level conference examining the ways how to safeguard the freedom and security of the internet.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need a complex approach where an equally free and secure cyber environment is maintained by innovative ICT awareness. No model that has proven its vitality can be taken from one context and introduced exactly in the same way to another. But if governments, entrepreneurs and citizens will share knowledge, establish cooperation and learn from good practices – as the story of E-stonia proves – we can make sure that the internet continues to be a beneficial tool for increasing global prosperity.