Disclaimer: this is a post written as part of my “ethics & digital world” course when COVID-19 first hit and classes were moved into distance format. It may contain heavy banter. The topic for that week was “Digital Politics”. Original post here.
There are other ways to carry out diplomatic and political tasks in digital form than posting questionable tweets or leaking classified emails. While certainly uncommon, fresh and exciting, digital / electronic embassies are most likely going to see growth in the future. The first one to realise that idea? Estonia. Where did they do it? Luxembourg. Why does it matter? The future is now.
E-Luxembourg — Technology
Luxembourg is a strange country. It is incredibly small, incredibly rich and therefore shady to the core. On a more serious note, banking in Luxembourg is blooming, and the whole country brought itself up by offering what was difficult to get or do in its surrounding countries,
mainly tax evasion, on top of being arguably the best connected country in Europe. Banking didn’t only bring riches either, but it built up Luxembourg’s reputation on privacy and security.
It’s fair to say Luxembourg built itself up on the banking industry, however as banking is no longer such a lucrative field, in order to stay relevant, Luxembourg is heavily involved in researching techonologies of the future, and becoming a place for research and innovation, as well as being hip for new generations. It has the luxury to spend great amount of resources to that effect, and doesn’t have deeply rooted traditions and laws preventing it from innovating. For instance, almost the whole country is covered by Fibre optic access.
Luxembourg is quite possibly the most digitally centered country next to Estonia, having many of the online governmental procedures and features (remember that Luxtrust thing), as well as being a major data-centre hub. This data nation is not only for gamers (Valve servers) but also entreprises, the most notable publicly disclosed data centre being European Data Hub.
If we take a look at examples, the main ISP in Luxembourg is POST, and they have been providing firewall services to customers for over 10 years. In fact, most entreprises rely on POST’s entreprise firewalls, requiring minimal additional configuration on their part. The redundancy is also covered: should POST’s network fail, their partnership with Orange Luxembourg (originally a French telecom compnay) guarantees networks being switched over and supported with minimal downtime.
Digital Embassy — Policy
Unsurprisingly, when Estonia came up with their incredible plan of taking e-governance to the next level, Luxembourg was the best choice to accomplish that. Not only because of the technological capabilites the country offers, but due to the legislation as well. Taking only EU member states into account, Luxembourg is on the front end of laws on digital privacy, and pioneered multiple milestones in the field such as GDPR, having even a platform in place for quickly and efficiently dealing with rights, be it informing yourself or filing a complaint.
Since the country itself is torn on diplomatic terms between France and Germany, two major powers in Europe, it is also quite stable from a political fluctuation standpoint, further strengthening it as an optimal location for Estonia’s daring endavours (since Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are not part of the Union).
From the perspective of “Country as Business”, Luxembourg being a place where many large companies come to seek refuge (such as Amazon EU Sarl or PayPal), it is also beneficial to develop state of the art products to catch the interest of companies and develop long standing relations, furthering the image of trust emanating from the country. This openness to new relations and deals, without sacrificng privacy or security is half of the appeal and what helps the country still grow its name. For example, the European Patent Office is working with Luxembourg to port their own databases based on the Estonian model, so is the country of Monaco.
Experience and Training
The Data centre used for the virtual embassy is operated by the Luxembourgish government’s centre for information and technology (CTIE) which, among others, is also being relied on by the European Commission and NATO. Indeed, Estonia is not the only small country trying to make a name for itself with digital solutions and expertise.
While Luxembourg doesn’t have such sensitive systems yet such as full digital voting capabilities, it also has not suffered from, or at least disclosed any National level data or system breaches. It continues to develop and strengthen its technological capabilities, and being at its key geographical position, and having strong ties with the Union, is quitely rivaling Estonia in the digital world.
The whole history of the country is observing and learning from mistakes or issues of other countries, and leveraging them to build something better, and that is not changing in the digital world. Luxembourg has had the chance to learn from what Estonia has done, and, being so small itself, is hiring talents from accross the world to develop the country further, and grow the youth into adepts as well (the banking really paid off huh).
Decades of political stability and prosperity have made Luxembourg a trusted destination, and Estonia was the first to fully take advantage of it. Having suffered from massive attacks in 2007, mitigating this by storing a backup solution in a more politically stable country seemed like the logical thing to do, and while no-one can guaranteee absolute security, reputation and history strengthen the odds. Small country? Definitely, but only by size, not by capability.