Friday night I had dinner with the Prime Minister of Estonia, Andrus Ansnip. He was in town to open a "tech embassy" in San Jose, part of Enterprise Estonia. While most of the world knows Estonia for Skype, there is a little more to it, as I've blogged before.
- 57% of the 1.3M population use the internet, and a Tiger's Leap program provided internet access to all schools
- The IT sector has developed particular core competencies in identity, security, mobility, p2p, voip, ebanking, egovernment, egambling, ecommerce.
- Web based services by the government as well as the private sector for doing business in Estonia are widespread with 98 percent of banking transactions made electronically.
- More than 80 percent of income tax filings by individual citizens of Estonia were filed electronically in 2006 and 65 percent of the population uses chip-based ID cards (this may be 80% now, see below)
- In 2005 they became the first to have legally binding internet voting
- Bay Area Estonian connections include: Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), a Silicon Valley based VC, and one of the first investors into Skype. BlueRun Ventures (VC) with investment into FusionOne (development team in Estonia). Egeen International - a biotech company in Mountain View that has been involved in Estonian Genome Project.
The setting of the dinner was too noisy for real conversation, which is unfortunate because these are such interesting times. Wage growth and inflation are a concern and Eurozone entry is at risk. Lacking monetary controls as stimulus, and maintaining a tight fiscal policy, GDP has slowed. Even the fundamentals of the housing growth are changing with the credit markets.
As I suggested to the last Prime Minister and the last President, a significant opportunity exists in relaxing immigration controls, particularly for technology skilled workers. This is politically difficult given that 25% of the population are Russians who came as occupiers, and policies aimed at protecting Estonia's language and culture. If it was as attractive and welcoming to work there as it is to invest there (no capital gains tax, etc.), it could be a significant form of economic stimulus. And with the IT sector actually being small, with Skype, Playtech and banks employing most of them, it is critical to attract more employees for future growth. A H-1B visa program, without limiting quotas, to fast track technology and research immigrants could be one solution.
Before dinner I of course Twittered for questions, and got lots of fun ones:
- trishussey @Ross Would he give addresses as podcasts?
- factoryjoe @ross Ask him how the OpenID tied to identity cards is working out!
- rainer @Ross: on which websites does @AndrusAnsip use his OpenId?
- briancaldwell @Ross "How has your country recovered from and protected against future cyber warfare attacks?"
- geraldb28 @ross The obvious... update on cyberattacks would be interesting.
- Pistachio @ross ask him to seesmic with you?
- ramsey @Ross: "Mr. Prime Minister, does that make you a holy man? Being a minister and all?"
- jstorerj @ross you could ask if he supports the Estonian start-up that's building social networks for dogs & cats (http://tinyurl.com/28meos). ;-)
- Every Estonian eID holder (around 80% of Estonian population) has an unique OpenID with the format open.id.ee/[firstname].[lastname](.number) Example: open.id.ee/martin.paljak
- No registration, no passwords, hardware tokens only - most secure OpenID provider to date where no phishing is possible (using traditional smart cards and soon GSM SIM cards over GSM network)
- Your online identity can never be stolen because your OpenID is attached to your real identity. You can always replace your stolen eID card and reclaim your online identity.
- All OpenID enabled sites across the world instantly benefit from the security provided by eID-s without the knowledge of eID-s even existing!