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Estonia and Finland connect their data exchange layers for seamless cross-border data transfer

According to an announcement on February 8, that Finland's Population Register Centre and the Republic of Estonia's Information System Authority have connected the two countries' data exchange layers, X-Road and Suomi.fi, to one another.

The Population Register Centre's Suomi.fi data exchange layer and Estonia's X-Road are both based on the same technology, originally developed in Estonia. (Today, X-Road is also implemented in Azerbaijan, Namibia and Faroe Islands.)

Estonia has one of the most digitised governments in the world and X-Road is the backbone of e-Estonia. It allows the nation’s various public and private sector e-Service databases to link up. To ensure secure transfers, all outgoing data from X-Road is digitally signed and encrypted, and all incoming data is authenticated and logged. Originally used to send queries to different databases, X-road has developed into a tool that can also write to multiple databases, transmit large data sets and perform searches across several databases simultaneously.

In Finland, the Suomi.fi data exchange layer transfers data from the Business Information System, the Population Information System and the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority's water meters.

The functionalities are in practice the same as when transferring data in the data exchange layer within Finland, but the connection makes transferring data to Estonia possible. The federation allows Finnish organizations in the data exchange layer to trust in the identity of Estonian organizations like those of Finnish actors. Other sector-specific and cross-border relationships are not necessary.

Because of increasing migration and commuting between the two countries, the governments of the two countries entered into an agreement on connecting the layers to one another at the end of 2016.

This connection will make it technologically possible to transfer data electronically through a uniform transfer method over the Gulf of Finland between organisations that have joined the countries' data exchange layers.

For example, register data can be exchanged automatically so that the home municipality of Estonians living in Finland is marked correctly in Estonian registries. This in turn, will influence the municipal services and social benefits citizens are provided in Estonia.

The two countries' tax authorities had also raised a demand for simple and reliable exchange of tax information. According to the agreement between the Population Register Centre and the Information System Authority, the organisations exchanging data will always agree bilaterally on the exchange of data. At present, 81 organisations have signed up for Finland's Suomi.fi data exchange layer. Approximately 1000 organisations have signed up for Estonia's X-Road.

"As the result of successful cooperation, Estonia and Finland have paved the way for a unique, uniform and secure data transfer solution between two countries. The interconnection of the data exchange layers will promote the development of future electronic services as the foundation for this – a solution for transferring data quickly and reliably – now exists," said Director Andrus Kaarelson from Estonia's Information System Authority.

"Finland and Estonia have engaged in cooperation to promote the exchange of information between their two countries for quite some time. Thus far, the transfer of data has been based on system-specific solutions. It is wonderful that we can now achieve a uniform data transfer solution for all information systems by connecting Finland's and Estonia's data exchange layers to one another," stated Joonas Kankaanrinne, Director of digital services at the Population Register Centre.

The data exchange layer technology is developed at the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions, which Finland and Estonia together established. 

Recently, Estonia also connected X-road to an external private enterprise outside of the European Union (EU), for the first time, with the opening of its first e-Residency Collection Centre in Seoul. Estonia became the first country in the world to launch an e-Residency programme back in 2014. Anyone from around the world can apply. If granted e-Residency, person receives a government-issued digital ID card that allows them access to e-services. Most e-services available for e-residents currently are business related, so entrepreneurs will benefit most from e-Residency. Until this launch, e-residents could only pick up their digi-IDs from Estonian Embassies around the world or from the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) service points in Estonia. Considering that there are only 40 Estonian Embassies, the need was felt for longer term solutions to both support the growth of e-Residency and meet the needs and expectations of existing e-residents.

The external private partner which will be issuing the digi-IDs is VFS Global, which already works with 58 governments around the world and provides mainly consular services. 

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