Updated: May 20, 2020
If all goes according to plan, the World Health Organization will introduce the x-road, the cornerstone of the Estonian e-government. In the future, it could become part of global data governance through the United Nations.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met via a video bridge, and a press release announced that Estonia would start digital cooperation with the organization.
According to the parties, this is anything but modest - it is rather an opportunity for a global breakthrough of our e-government principles, a cooperation plan that has always been dreamed of.
"If we think about the possibilities of exporting a digital country or sharing Estonia's experience, then a bigger project than this, is impossible to imagine," said Marten Kaevats, digital advisor of the State Chancellery.
Speaking of open development, modest is not an opportunity of the century. "If we're talking about rethinking the potential data exchange on the entire planet and the legal framework around it, it's clearly a lifelong project."
So what's the point? In essence, a number of Estonian and Finnish software companies have formed a kind of consortium to develop a data management system for the WHO based on the principles of distributed data exchange. Among the companies involved, Kaevats mentions Guardtime, Nortal, Helmest, Gofore, Roksnet, the E-government Academy, and many other Estonian and Finnish companies.
According to Kaevats, it all started almost a year ago, when he attended one of the world's largest human artificial intelligence conferences in Geneva. Ties were established with Soumya Swaminathan, WHO's the new head of research, and Kaevats has now become a member of the WHO Digital Health Technology Advisory Group. It is a high-level expert group that advises the WHO and its Director-General on digital health.
"Simply put, I immediately took the approach that I am not a health expert, I'm going to take the x-road there," Kaevats said. "Currently, the problem at the international level is that everyone is doing their own thing and there are many silos everywhere, which do not form a whole. What we are proposing is a comprehensive digital data management plan with the appropriate tools and methods. At the same time, we are not bringing technology there, but above all the principles of data management. We are trying to show that with such a distributed data architecture as our x-road, it is also possible to make a sustainable international organization, "Kaevats explained.
X-Road is a "centrally managed distributed Data Exchange Layer (DXL) between information systems". Organizations can exchange information over the Internet using X-Road to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and interoperability between data exchange parties
One of the successes is the fact that if in October the interoperability of systems was not written in the plans of the WHO digital strategy, now it has become the keyword of the strategy.
A way of managing data without a central server, or, as Marten Kaevats says, a system without a Big Brother.
Each entity participating in such a system is free and independent and is responsible for its own share.
By way of example: the laboratory that created the health data confirms that it is correct, the Member State that the laboratories are on the list, the WHO that the information flows between the participants.
A pilot project is currently underway, but it is only a test for visionaries to prove that this approach works. Once the principle of distributed use of data has been broken, the next logical step would be to start extending the solution of a distributed architecture to the UN machinery.
The first project by which Estonian digital solutions enter the door of the WHO is called the immunity wallet, and the data security company Guardtime has taken the initiative. The basic idea of an immune pocket is that a person can present reliable information about themselves securely and the other party, whoever it is, can reliably control it.
"Of course, we are still at the beginning of the process. The pilot project initially talked about connecting the databases of 15-20 countries. I believe that we will be able to do much more during the coronary crisis. When coronavirus vaccines are ready at some point, we want to be able to know reliably who is immune and who is not. This is building readiness so that we can start traveling normally again, "said Marten Kaevats.
Estonians create an immune pocket
Each country interacts with national corona vaccination laboratories.
Countries send a list of trusted laboratories to the WHO, which maintains them in its own secure database.
According to Ain Aaviksoo, Head of Health at GuardTime, the keyword is the certifiability of the data set.
"I have given an example of this: if in Estonia we are used to the police being able to watch my violations, then we do not imagine that a Chinese official would ask the information system of the North Estonian regional hospital, for example, whether Ain Aaviksoo has been vaccinated. However, it is possible to come up with a scenario where Ain has the relevant information on the phone, there is a security code on it, with which it is possible to check the reliability of the data, ie that the data has not been changed in the meantime, "explained Aaviksoo's benefit of immunity pocket.
On the other hand, the solution is important for the WHO, hospitals, and other institutions, as the development of a vaccine is likely to lead to a situation where production does not meet demand, a large number of falsified vaccines are placed on the market, vaccination is distributed. For example, in many countries, you can't even be sure that people will still get the right vaccine - often they are changed halfway, or sometimes a batch just goes left. In this situation, the data integrity created by the digital solution becomes important.
"It is important for the WHO and donors that each vaccine has a unique serial number, and because vaccination is now organized by major international organizations, we can ensure transparency and reliability throughout the supply chain. From production to injection, you can be sure that it is safe, secure, and effective, »explained Aaviksoo.
The Guardtime solution would combine the security of people's mobile and paper evidence with WHO-certified databases of healthcare institutions and vaccines using blockchain technology or via x-Road.
Former state chief software architect Andres Kütt from the software company Proud Engineers said that the technology has not yet been selected. "There are currently at least four variants on the table, and it is possible to use both the x-path and the block circuit."
The third way of data management
Looking at the diversity of global data governance practices, two broad approaches stand out, which could be conditionally called the China-US approach.
The first means centralized data, so the central government controls everything. An example is China, where the state controls all data about people and has thus taken on a kind of babysitting role.
However, the US option is semi-decentralized and the data is privately owned.
"China's Big Brother's approach is not kosher from our point of view, and my opinion on the US variant is that it's a different Big Brother, and there are even several of them, but again, it's not okay to look at all the data from Google when looking at the European value space." »Marten Kaevats characterized the systems.
The third approach to data movement and privacy is emerging in Europe, where NIIS (Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions), which unites Estonia and Northern European countries, is developing the x-Road, which originated in Estonia, as a distributed data management platform.
NIIS currently manages and develops x-roads for international use, for example, some data is currently moving between Estonia and Finland. In addition to Estonia and Finland, NIISI members include Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
But what would happen if the WHO joined NIISI?
"That was my goal when I went to the WHO. For me, the project will be really successful if we can optimistically become a member of WHO in two, realistically four years, " Kaevats said about the plan to make distributed data architecture the world standard.
According to the plans, Estonian and Finnish companies will contribute to the pilot project, which will be completed within six months, free of charge. If the pilot project is successful, companies will have the opportunity to participate as a contractual partner, and then they can already talk about money.
The pilot project must prove that the idea of Estonians works technologically, but also that it does not depend on the level of technological development of the countries. In the pre-coronary period, in addition to Estonia-Finland, there were agreements with Singapore, Argentina, Chile, Cape Verde, Rwanda and other countries to participate in the pilot project. According to Kaevats, there are currently more countries willing to participate in this project.
The successful attempt should be followed by a WHOS global policy agreement in autumn 2021. This includes, in addition to technology, agreeing on legal, semantic and ideological principles.
One minister considers it a jug, another does not
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense have different understandings of the independence of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Minister of Defense Jüri Luik said on Tuesday on ETV's "First Studio" that the WHO, which should be engaged in independent research on epidemiological issues, is very weak in this and seems to be more of a plaintiff. Therefore, such a capability should be created for the European Union.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center Party) does not seem to agree with this, because the day before yesterday he discussed the fight against the pandemic with WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"We were recognized by the WHO. We have made them an offer of cooperation that interested him. We discussed the second wave of the virus and the vaccine. The WHO has also made false predictions, but they are not the only ones, "Ratas said yesterday.
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