Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and political scientist and writer Francis Fukuyama discussed the future of information technology in Stanford University, Silicon Valley.
The discussion between Ilves and Fokyama focused on the role of technology in the election processes of democratic countries and using technology to rise participation rate and trust in democracy.
Estonia is the only country in the world where one can vote online, which represents a unique global example of harnessing technology to promote democracy. So far, voters have had the choice to cast an e-vote at election time on eight occasions since 2005.
President Ilves emphasized that one of the positive aspects of e-voting is the opportunity to cast your vote from any geographical location by using digital identity or ID card/Mobile ID and upload the required software into your computer. For example, one third of the electorate in Estonia used the e-voting option when casting their votes for the 2015 Parliament elections.
“The proportion of e-voters continues to grow. This demonstrates that people choose electronic voting channels as they have trust in the system. While gender, age or residence-related differences could be observed among standard voters and e-voters in the initial few years, the latest studies have shown that these differences have disappeared,” Ilves added.
The Head of State emphasised that Estonia is very serious about ensuring the security of e-services, and various technical, legal and administrative steps have been taken to this end at state level. Ensuring safety has the key importance of maintaining the trust of our citizens, he said, adding that he has had no reason to doubt the security of the system.
Fukuyama, however, raised the question of information technology development interfering with the private sphere of people's lives. Ilves agreed that products like Google’s smart glasses are quite definitely teetering on the edge. He added that people also voluntarily give away loads of information about themselves by using various free telephone apps: “There is no such thing as a free app. Someone, somewhere is making lots of money with these data.”
Fukuyama also admitted that Americans are always upset when they feel that the government violates their privacy, while at the same time they share huge amounts of personal information by using various applications and are totally oblivious to the fact themselves.
On the other hand, the development of information technology will ensure more and more transparency for the purposes of public governance, such as public sector spending.
Ilves and political scientist Fukuyama also exchanged ideas about the freedom of the internet.
“Certain authoritarian countries insist on restricting the freedom of the internet. In Estonia, we find that such restrictions and the promotion of these restrictions by various international organisations are highly dangerous. The freedom of the internet is an important aspect for a well-operating civil society; therefore, it is one of the tools for promoting and ensuring democracy,” Ilves said.
Francis Fukuyama and Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Photo: Marju Randmer/VPKfoto.ee)
Editor: M. Oll