Estonia’s Blockchain-Integrated X-Road Platform To Support Data Sharing With Finland

X-Road, a blockchain-integrated data sharing platform that is one of the Estonian government’s digital pet projects, will facilitate the transfer of information between some institutions in its home country and others in Finland.

Estonia’s X-Road platform for secure online data transfers, which first launched in 2000, will soon support the transmission of data between some Estonia- and Finland-based entities.

The communications system, which supports institution-to-institution information sharing, will enable a range of use cases. These are projected to include filling a prescription at a pharmacy in one country that was written by a doctor in the other and reporting the income of Estonians employed in Finland to Estonia’s Tax and Customs Board. 

According to a page of the e-Estonia website dedicated to the platform, X-Road has, in some form or another, already been implemented in Finland, Azerbaijan, Namibia, and the Faroe Islands. The platform has been capable of transferring data between Estonia and Finland since June 2017. The page describes X-Road as the “backbone of e-Estonia,” connecting the various databases that are associated with the “full range of services” offered by “Estonia’s e-solution environment.”

Under the terms of a 2016 agreement between the Estonia-based firm Guardtime and the country’s government, X-Road was integrated with the company’s “KSI blockchain” (the initials stand for “keyless signature infrastructure”). Guardtime began to cooperate formally with the Estonian government in 2011 and, according to the 2016 deal, was set to provide its KSI technology “to all levels of Estonian eGovernment infrastructure.” By December 2017, the firm’s largest customer group was the United States military.

While the exact nature of blockchain’s role in the platform is not entirely clear, the website of the Estonian Information System Authority, or RIA, (which runs the X-Road “Centre”) relates that in order to “ensure the continued integrity of the logs” that contain records of all on-platform activity, “chaining” may be used to make “latter logs cryptographically dependent on those that precede them. Chaining makes it impossible to fabricate events.”

It would seem that the databases which X-Road links together are not blockchain-based themselves, however, as Estonia’s e-Residency Managing Director Kaspar Korjus noted in a July 2017 blog post that data on the platform are “decentralised, yet never duplicated.” A 2016 explanatory video from an RIA YouTube account explains that X-Road “data is stored where it is created.”

The decentralized platform uses a system of timestamping and digital signatures that allow parties to prove that data which they previously accessed are authentic. It also ensures that information transmitted via X-Road “reaches only the authorized parties,” and the X-Road Centre stores records of who has accessed what data at what time, allowing for the prosecution of those who improperly retrieve it.

The system uses a “unique personal number” to identify people, some pets, “important objects like real estate, agreements, outgoing mails,” and other documents and items. Along with X-Road’s decentralized architecture, this feature does away with the potential problem of “personal data [being] updated in one database but not another.”

In 2007, the open-source system withstood a large-scale cyberattack (some Estonian officials suspect that Russia was the culprit) which temporarily took down much of Estonia’s other digital infrastructure.

At a recent discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid said, in reference to the country’s campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, “New Zealand took climate to the Security Council and we will take digital to the Security Council when we’re elected.” 

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