Distributed focuses on how legacy industries and sectors can, or should, adopt blockchain technology. Government is most certainly a legacy sector, and one that is not often considered as an early adopter of disruptive technologies. Yet, governments all over the planet have expressed interest in blockchain technology, forming official working groups and even starting pilot projects to find out how distributed ledgers can assist government work.
In this vein, an interesting new proposal comes from Estonia.
In October 2014, the Estonian government launched its “e-Residency” program, which offers anyone, anywhere a digital identity issued by the government with the potential to start and operate a business online under Estonian regulations. The foreigners who become e-residents of Estonia are not automatically entitled to physical residency in the small Baltic state, but they can base their online business there.
Those who wish to apply for Estonian e-residency can submit standard ID documents and a “motivation statement” through a secure online form, pay a €100 fee with Visa or Mastercard and wait for approval (which involves a background check). Upon e-mail notification of approval, new e-residents can pick up their digital ID card in-person from a chosen pick-up location, which include Estonian embassies or consulates. No physical travel to Estonia is required.
The digital ID card provides e-residents with a government-issued digital identity, secure access to services, digital signing and authentication of documents and all that is needed to establish and operate a location-independent business remotely. It appears that many people, not only “digital nomads” but also average citizens frustrated with excessive and/or inefficient bureaucracy and regulation in their own countries, are virtually flocking to Estonia.
“This is the beginning of the erosion of the classic nation state hegemony,” MIT digital identity researcher John Clippinger told New Scientist, referring to the launch of the e-Residency program. “It’s going to get whittled away from the margins.”
“The latest statistics show that there are now more than 22,000 e-residents signed up from 138 countries and they make an enormous contribution to Estonia in return for the opportunities that we deliver to them,” noted Kaspar Korjus, managing director of the e-Residency program. “The ability to start a location-independent company is now the main ‘product’ that’s driving the growth of e-residency. But as more people discover e-residency, more uses for e-residency are being discovered.”
Korjus added that Estonia has unique advantages, including a business environment that is globally attractive and a digital infrastructure that permits global offerings. Beyond that, the e-Residency program is now creating a new borderless digital nation where many opportunities provided by traditional nations can be offered entirely online.
Korjus is persuaded that, in the long term, “governments may have no option but to (literally) accept cryptocurrencies.” In the same innovative digital spirit that led to the inception of the e-Residency program, Korjus is now thinking that Estonia should issue crypto tokens to e-residents, becoming the first country with an Initial Coin Offering (ICO).
That would lead to something many never thought possible: a government-backed cryptocurrency. Dubbed “Estcoin,” the crypto token could benefit both the country and the growing community of e-residents. In a disclaimer, Korjus pointed out that Estcoin is not part of national policy yet. But, he said, “it is an idea worth considering, which has the potential to become reality.”
The possible ICO can be seen as an outgrowth of the e-Residency program. In fact, the digital identities used by e-residents can permit securely trading crypto assets with strong government-operated measures against counterfeiting and illegal activities. By purchasing Estcoin, e-residents could “invest in the country” and support Estonia as it builds new technologies and innovations for the public sector and new funding programs for innovative businesses. According to Korjus, Estcoin could be attractive to investors from the day it is launched.
Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, who provided feedback for the Estcoin proposal, agrees. "An ICO within the e-Residency ecosystem would create a strong incentive alignment between e-residents and this fund,” he said.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), terms like “fund” and “investment” shouldn’t be used to describe a token sale. But, of course, governments have privileges that entrepreneurs don’t.Bloomberg noted that the tokens could become a viable currency, paying for goods and services in a euro-zone country. The Express goes some steps further, interpreting Estcoin as a “Nail in the euro coffin!”
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