Estonia to open world's first 'data embassy'

TALLINN • Cyber-savvy Estonia has taken yet another step forward in global technology - the small Baltic state is set to open the world's first "data embassy" in Luxembourg early next year.

The heavily protected server room will contain key e-government data, which the Nato and euro zone member can access even when systems are down at home.

"Data security and cyber security are generally crucial from the perspective of both people's confidence and the functioning of services," Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said last month. "It is also an important part of so-called daily digital hygiene in increasingly digitising societies."

He released the statement after signing an agreement with his Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel. "This is the first data embassy in the world," said Mr Ratas, whose country of just 1.3 million people has been dubbed a trailblazer in technology.

After five decades of Soviet rule ended in 1991, Estonia opted to go high-tech as fast as possible, and still outstrips other members of the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

One of the most connected countries in the world, the Baltic state has made most public services accessible on a special state portal, and pioneered e-voting in 2005.

Its capital Tallinn is home to the Nato cyber-defence centre, where experts from across Europe and the United States work to protect the data networks of the alliance's 29 member states.

Estonia has bitter experience in the field: A politically charged dispute with Moscow in 2007 was marked by a cyber attack blamed on Russian hackers - although the Kremlin denied any involvement.

A year later, the Tallinn-based Nato cyber-defence centre was up and running. Work on using international cloud services began in 2014, when the country joined forces with Microsoft.

The data embassy in Luxembourg will notably back up information regarding taxes, land, businesses, identity documents, pensions, legislation and the census.

"The virtual data embassy's main goal is to guarantee the country's digital continuity: the capacity to start the systems when necessary and retrieve data from externally stored versions," said Ms Emilie Toomela, a spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

"For this, Estonia needs additional server resources that should be completely controlled by Estonia - this means they should be subject to the same clauses as Estonia's physical embassies (for example, immunity) - but should be situated outside Estonia," she told Agence France-Presse.

Ms Toomela said the data embassy would have no direct link to the embassy in Brussels; nor would it have any people working there.

"Luxembourg was chosen for the state-owned, high-security, Tier 4 certified data centres, the likes of which Estonia does not have, and also because Luxembourg was ready to guarantee diplomatic privileges to Estonian data and infosystems."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline Estonia to open world's first 'data embassy'. Subscribe