Euro-IR Project Main Index

The APC European Internet Rights Project

Country Report — Estonia

by Mathias Klang

Internet Access

Three surveys carried out during 1997-1998 have all shown an expansive trend in ICT use in Estonia. In February 1997, only 33% of Estonian population aged between 15-74 had ever used computer. In September the figure was 37% and in September-October 1998 it had increased to 40%.[1] Between February 1997 and September 1997 the number of Internet users increased to 10% of the Estonian population aged between 15-74.[2] Every other Internet user reads on-line publications, every fifth user has utilized some Internet banking service.[3] In 1997, 7% of the Estonian population aged between 15 - 74 used e-mail, by 1998 the figure was 10%. Almost 66% of the e-mail users have their own personal e-mail address, 25% use a corporate address and 7% use the private address of some other person.[4]

Estonia is among the first of Eastern Europe’s transition economies which is deemed to have the potential to enter into the European Union. The country has concentrated on economic reforms and also upon providing Internet access for the 1.4 million citizens. This is done by providing public access points throughout the country including remote areas such as islands in the Baltic Sea. Programmes such as Tiger Leap began as a way of providing ICT for schools but have been expanded to help create an open and democratic Estonian information society. More than one in 10 Estonians are now on-line. Estonia ranks among the top 15 countries in Europe in computers per capita, ahead of France and Italy.[5]

Government efforts

The government’s approach to the development of the information society in Estonia is mapped out in the Principles of Estonian Information Policy.[6] The approach includes subjects like point 7: Modernisation of legislation, Supporting the development of the private sector, Shaping the interaction between the State and citizens, Raising awareness of problems concerning the information society.

The purpose of this development, as foreseen by the government, is explained in point 9:
  • Promotes and ensures democracy in the Republic of Estonia;

  • Supports the development of an information infrastructure;

  • Supports the creation of a competitive economy, especially through getting rid of monopoly, speeding up the restitution of property, the development of electronic commerce and electronic banking;

  • Supports the development of Estonian culture and language, considering also values deriving from the cultural diversity;

  • Supports the modernisation and improvement of State defence as a result of developments in information technology.

Telecommunications Market

In 1992 the Concession Agreement was signed by the Estonian Government and Estonian Telephone Company (ETC), granting ETC exclusive rights till 2001 for the provision of basic services, the exclusive rights agreement shall not be extended.

In accordance with the Telecommunications Act (§ 105) those wishing to operate a public telecommunications network must register with the National Communications Board. By September 2000 the Communications Board received applications from 26 companies for registration.[7]

Starting October 1, a number of tariffs for services provided by the Estonian Telephone Company will be raised. Considering the popularity of the Internet a reduced price is offered to Internet users. Since ETC is the dominant company in the field, offers for dial up services is extending to other service providers in the market as well.[8]

Regulating ICT

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia has two key articles important to the creation of an open information society. The first is the freedom of ideas in article §45.

"§ 45. Everyone has the right to freely disseminate ideas, opinions, beliefs and other information by word, print, picture or other means. This right may be restricted by law to protect public order, morals, and the rights and freedoms, health, honour and good name of others. This right may also be restricted by law for state and local government civil servants, to protect a state or business secret or information received in confidence, which has become known to them by reason of their office, and the family and private life of others, as well as in the interests of justice.

There is no censorship."[9]

The restrictions mentioned here are common to constitutional statements of this type. The second paragraph in this article is interesting since it appears after the limitations to the freedom of ideas.

Since Estonia is applying for membership into the EU many of the legislative efforts in the past years have been performed with this in mind. This has resulted in legislation that is well adapted to that of the member states. Specific ICT legislation include:
  • The Personal Data Protection Act [10] entered into force on 19 July 1996. Well adapted to EU Data Protection Directive.

  • The Databases Act [11] entered into force 19 April 1997. Well adapted to EU database directive.

  • Digital Signatures Act [12] entered into force 15 December 2000.

  • Public Information Act (forthcoming).

By the enactment of the Public Information Act a gap in the application of basic rights and liberties of citizens, as mentioned in the Article 46 of the Constitution, will be filled.

"§ 46. Everyone has the right to address state agencies, local governments, and their officials with memoranda and petitions. The procedure for responding shall be provided by law." [13]

The aim of this law is the regulation of freedom of information or the right of a person to get information about fulfillment of public tasks. This entails fundamental changes to the work practices of civil servants. The draft suggests that much of the information between government and citizen should be transferred via ICT.

A step nearer to information freedom has also been taken by the amendment from July 8 of the ordinance of the Government of the Republic, according to which "all ministries and the State Chancellery make public drafts of proposed laws, resolutions of Riigikogu and decrees of the Government of the Republic, together with commentaries, at the latest, on the work- day following the submission day on the Internet home page of the respective ministry or the State Chancellery, if there are no other statutory provisions establishing a different order of making public or fixing dates. If the draft is not submitted to co- ordination, it will be, together with commentaries, made public, at the latest, on the work-day following the submission to the State Chancellery." [14]

Future Developments

The Estonian’s are working on a new project to replace old ID-cards and passports. This is an electronic identity, based on smartcard technology, and will be a generally acceptable identification document and contain both visually and electronically accessible information. The card should be multifunctional - besides being a nationally accepted personal identification token, it would also serve other purposes, both in the public (social security, health insurance etc) and private sectors (banks, service companies etc). [15]

List of sources

1. Open Estonia Foundation - Research "Usage of Computers and Internet among population of Estonia" was carried out by Balti Meediateabe AS - Baltic Media Facts Ltd. in September - October 1998.

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Ibid

5. Human Development Report 1999


7. ESIS Report about Estonia - October 2000

8. Ibid

9. The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia



12. &

13. The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia


15. &

Euro-IR Project Main Index