Bill Gates made into e-resident without asking

Aivar Pau
, ajakirjanik
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Photo: MARKUS SCHREIBER / AP / Scanpix

Estonia has decided to use world-famous persons to advertise its e-residency program. For that purpose, background checks are carried out and Estonian identity documents issued without asking the person whether they want to become an e-resident.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the wealthiest man in India Mukesh Ambani – they are only a few of the world’s greats who have been given an Estonian personal identification code and e-resident status outside standard procedure.

The people in question have not been required to file applications, pay the €100 state fee or present existing identification. They have been made e-residents based on the interior minister’s decision. They have Estonian digital identity now, they can digitally identify themselves using our IT systems. The reason is simple: Estonia’s considerable interest in using them as free advertising for the e-residency program.

“Elevated public interest makes it possible to gift people such things. All members of government can turn to the interior minister with requests they are expected to explain,” said Marten Kaevats, digital innovation adviser to the Government Office. He added that even celebrities are not spared background checks that go through money laundering databases and all manner of public records.

How are the celebrities selected? Whence the initiative?

Kaevats said upcoming formal meetings are often the catalyst. “That Bill Gates would meet with our prime minister was very short notice. We saw that his birthday was coming up and this presented the perfect opportunity to give the founder of Microsoft his first digital identity,” he said.

Both Gates and Angela Merkel have been given e-residency as a surprise present and possibly didn’t know anything about it until then. “They do not always have prior knowledge,” the digital innovation adviser said.

Kaevats said that VIP e-residents have hardly used their new status and for them the e-residency card is likely something they can use to scrape ice off their windshield so to speak. Their certificates will simply expire after a certain number of years, while they will get to keep their personal identification code.

“It is rather a matter of marketing and image creation. To promote awareness through certain spokespersons,” Kaevats explained and added that Gates and others are not paid for acting as a marketing channel.

E-residency does not give a person special rights nor does it come with special obligations. All it does is give one personalized access to Estonian e-services. “E-residency is not a right, it is a benefit – it is quite a lightweight thing as far as legislation is concerned,” the Government Office adviser explained.