Starting today, the Estonian government, in partnership with the world’s first Blockchain powered virtual country, Bitnation, will start offering a public notary service to their e-residents, using the Bitcoin blockchain.
Brave New Coin spoke with Bitnation founder Suzanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, who shared details about this landmark project as she was getting ready to facilitate several inaugural events that will take place today.
“I’m delighted to work with Estonia’s e-Residency program to set a standard practice of competition of governance services on a global market, and to enable others to exercise Self-determination and follow Bitnation's path to sovereignty.”
- Suzanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, Bitnation CEO
Tarkowski Tempelhof explained that the partnership emerged when “one of the Bitnation Ambassadors who’ve been engaged in both efforts insisted that we talked.” Soon both parties realized they had a lot of common ground in their shared belief of “providing non-geographically contingent governance services on an open and competitive market.” Tarkowski Tempelhof explained that the Estonian government “understands the dynamics of the globalization era far better than any other government.”
The Republic of Estonia, nicknamed e-Estonia, is already a testing ground for companies such as the exchange and clearinghouse operator Nasdaq, which announced last month that it had plans to develop several blockchain applications, including a solution for proxy voting.
The tiny European country appears to be a sound choice, as it’s well known for adopting technology. It was the first to offer public Wifi to its’ citizens, back in 2001, and is the birthplace of Skype. The country already offers a variety of e-programs, having added e-Residency in late in 2014.
“e-Residency offers to every world citizen a government-issued digital identity and the opportunity to run a trusted company online, unleashing the world’s entrepreneurial potential...By providing e-Residency and opening up our services globally, Estonia is now moving toward the idea of a country without borders.”
One of Bitnation’s primary goals is to provide the same services as traditional governments, from dispute resolution and insurance to security and much more. The difference is that Bitnation's services are geographically unbound, decentralized, and completely voluntary. There are no taxes to be a Bitnation citizen, only fees for the services you choose to use, which you can select a-la-carte.
The project was started in July 2014, and just last month Tarkowski Tempelhof and her team responded to Europe’s dire refugee crisis with a separate program, the Bitnation Refugee Emergency Response (BRER). This interesting initiative attempts to help refugees with direct assistance, by issuing blockchain-proven identity cards and VISA debit cards with pre-loaded bitcoins.
The cards are a perfect fit for refugees. While they can effortlessly accept donations from anyone in the world, through their Bitcoin public address, they can also spend the funds effortlessly on the VISA network.
Tarkowski Tempelhof provided an updated status of Bitnation’s refugee assistance efforts, stating that the first batch of 100 VISA cards was sent out, with the expectation that another 1000 will be sent by the end of the year. “A couple of hundred people have created emergency IDs, and we’re talking with UN agencies to get the IDs endorsed so they carry more weight when moving around in Europe,” she added.
“We have added additional features to the ID as well. The next upgrade will come with storage facilities, login, and reputation system.”
- Tarkowski Tempelhof
With the help of Bitnation, Estonia’s e-residents will now be able to notarize their marriages, birth certificates, business contracts, and much more, from anywhere in the world.
Tarkowski Tempelhof states emphatically that the team wants to improve the Notary service as quickly as possible, and are working hard to add more features, contract templates, and tailored applications for different types of contracts. “Once we’ve done that, we can start looking into other applications,” she added. “One that comes to mind immediately is p2p insurance.”
The release of the public notary program coincides with the one year anniversary of the Estonian e-Residency Program. For this historic celebration, for both Estonia and Bitnation, there will be a Google Hangout at 3pm GMT that premieres a demo of the notary, and explains how it works with the e-Residency ID.
As if that was not enough cutting-edge blockchain tech on display, a couple will get married during the hangout as well, forever imprinting proof of their wedding on the blockchain as part of the ceremony. Everyone is welcome to attend.
“We’re going to marry a couple during the hangout, and others are welcome to join the hangout as well, and get married, or notarise any document of their choice, with our guidance.”
- Tarkowski Tempelhof
The couple getting married in front of witnesses, and under the auspices of Bitnation and e-Estonia, go by the names Edwrne and Mayel. They are self-proclaimed glomads and were both born in the Basque Country, an unofficial country with moving borders that extends over several different European countries’ geographical area. The couple has moved from place to place ‘their entire lives,’ which makes decentralized governance services a good fit for them.
“We have no specific home because home is everywhere on this little blue planet of ours. Just like our life, we do not want our marriage to be linked to any particular nation state, nor any state's definitions of what our relationship (marriage) and celebration (wedding) should look like...Thanks to decentralised autonomous organisations like Bitnation, we are able to exercise self-determination and forge our own path to sovereignty.”
- Edwrne and Mayel
However, couples getting married using just a public notary are not recognized in the jurisdiction of Estonia, nor in any other nation states’ jurisdiction. Instead, they get married in the blockchains jurisdiction. Blockchain technology provides a worldwide proof of existence, and integrity for contractual agreements, including marriages, all without tying them to any country or location.
Similarly, Estonia's e-Residency also has limitations. It does not give citizenship, tax residency, nor the right of entry to Estonia or to the European Union. The e-resident digi-ID is not a physical identification nor a travel document, and it does not display a photo.
The Estonian government recognizes the limitations of its e-Residency program, and is trying to improve upon it. “Currently e-residents applying for an Estonian bank account have to come to Estonia and have a ‘face-to-face’ meeting with a bank official,” states the programs documentation. “However, hopefully within the next year e-residents will be able to apply for a bank account the same way they take advantage of other Estonian services: digitally.”
Nevertheless, the eIDs and services on offer are built on state of the art technological solutions, such as 2048-bit public key encryption, and the e-Residency program already has over 6,700 applications from 120 countries, with more than 500 companies connected to e-residents, all while still in beta phase.
“We are also happy to announce that in the last few months, we have had several well-known additions to the e-Residency community, such as the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe, former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki and Swedbank President and CEO Michael Wolf.”
Just as Estonia's e-Residency places no limitation of where a resident lives, Bitnation places no restrictions on where in the world you are from, where you live, nor what passport you hold. Their motto is that everyone has the right to enjoy high-end, competitive, governance services.
“In Estonia we believe that people should be able to freely choose their digital/public services best fit to them, regardless of the geographical area where they were arbitrarily born. We’re truly living in exciting times when nation states and virtual nations compete and collaborate with each other on an international market, to provide better governance services.”
- Kaspar Korjus, e-Residency Program Director
Estonia also understands that a digital identity itself does not inherently bring with it new risks, such as money laundering. Instead, the country recognizes that digital footprints are more easily traced, which makes existing risks more visible and manageable. According to Bitnation, this same concept is true with the blockchain. “The distributed and immutable nature of this public notary makes it more secure than any notary currently offered by traditional nation states.”
Combining Estonia’s e-Residency program with Bitnation’s notary and VISA card services is a groundbreaking combination that is simply unprecedented in the history of refugee assistance. Now anyone, anywhere, that wants these important services, no matter if they are impoverished refugees or the Prime Minister of Japan, can get them online, and for a while at least, completely free.