The nation state goes virtual

Tom Symons at Nesta’s Predictions for 2018: “As the world changes, people expect their governments and public services to do so too. When it’s easy to play computer games with someone on the other side of the world, or set up a company bank account in five minutes, there is an expectation that paying taxes, applying for services or voting should be too…..

To add to this, large political upheavals such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have left some people feeling alienated from their national identity. Since the the UK voted to leave the EU, demand for Irish passports has increased by 50 per cent, a sign that people feel dissatisfied by the constraints of geographically determined citizenship when they can no longer relate to their national identity.

In response, some governments see these changes as an opportunity to reconceptualise what we mean by a nation state.

The e-Residency offer

The primary actor in this disruption is Estonia, which leads the world in digital government. In 2015 they introduced an e-Residency, allowing anyone anywhere in the world to receive a government-issued digital identity. The e-Residency gives people access to digital public services and the ability to register and run online businesses from the country, in exactly the same way as someone born in Estonia. As of November 2017, over 27,000 people have applied to be Estonian e-Residents, and they have established over 4,200 companies. Estonia aims to have ten million virtual residents by 2025….

While Estonia is a sovereign nation using technology to redefine itself, there are movements taking advantage of decentralising technologies in a bid to do away with the nation state altogether. Bitnation is a blockchain-based technology which enables people to create and join virtual nations. This allows people to agree their own social contracts between one another, using smart contract technology, removing the need for governments as an administrator or mediator. Since it began in 2014, it has been offering traditional government services, such as notaries, dispute resolution, marriages and voting systems, without the need for a middleman.

As of November 2017, there are over 10,000 Bitnation citizens. …

As citizens, we may be able to educate our children in Finland, access healthcare from South Korea and run our businesses in New Zealand, all without having to leave the comfort of our homes. Governments may see this as means of financial sustainability in the longer term, generating income by selling such services to a global population instead of centralised taxation systems levied on a geographic population.

Such a model has been described as ‘nation-as-a-service’, and could mean countries offering different tiers of citizenship, with taxes based on the number of services used, or tier of citizenship chosen. This could also mean multiple citizenships, including of city-states, as well as nations….

This is the moment for governments to start taking the full implications of the digital age seriously. From electronic IDs and data management through to seamless access to services, citizens will only demand better digital services. Countries such as Azerbaijan, are already developing their own versions of the e-Residency. Large internet platforms such as Amazon are gearing up to replace entire government functions. If governments don’t grasp the nettle, they may find themselves left behind by technology and other countries which won’t wait around for them….(More)”.