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How do you back up a country?

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Estonia is a highly digitized nation, with nearly everyone using the Internet, and all government services online. Now the government wants to back the country up… to Great Britain.

It’s a serious issue. The Baltic state went digital early, with an e-minded government elected in 2001. It was the first place to allow online voting, first in the 2005 local elections, and then in the 2007 general election, using an online digital identity which also gives access to government services. By 2010, three-quarters of the 1.3 million population were online, and it now has 91 percent penetration.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Source: Thinkstock/kotomiti

Worried about the neighbours…

The idea of backing up a government abroad could be another first - and there is a serious reason for it. Estonia is often cited as a potential target for destabilization by Russia. After annexing the Crimea in Ukraine, Russia is reckoned to be sizing up the other former Communist states.

Estonia has already suffered a cyber attack which originated in Russia, back in 2007. Banks and ministries were hit by a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, which many blame on the Kremlin. The Russian government has denied it was involved, but has refused to give Estonian law enforcers access to track the perpetrators.

In recent weeks, Russian government hackers have supposedly been hard at work hacking the US Government, the US Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, after a bizarre request from Republican candidate Donald Trump. In a press conference, Trump actually said he hoped the Russians successfully hacked Clinton’s emails, and shared the state secrets they contain.

And of course, Trump’s equally worrying threat to abandon NATO allies has caused concern in countries bordering Russia. Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and warned that the US may not come to the aid of fellow members.  An Estonian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman responded: “Estonia’s commitment to our NATO obligations is beyond doubt and so should be the commitments by others.”

Actual cyber war? 

It’s kind of theoretical to imagine a NATO response to a Russian cyber attack, of course. Cyber has only just been recognized as a field of combat, and any attack, like the 2007 one, could not not be pinned on the Russians. But the possibility of a Trump-led US foreign policy would make Estonia feel a little more exposed.

So Estonia wants a reliable place to back up the crucial data for the country’s social structure. The UK has good connections, and a thriving data center market. It’s got its own political issues with its pending exit from the European Union. So Estonia is also talking to Luxembourg, which has plenty of Tier IV data centers and already holds the NATO backup.

But the UK is apparently still a good place. Brexit is a long way off - and may be receding. If and when it happens, it may be able to define its own privacy regime somewhat. I’m not imagining Brexit is a good thing by any means, but imagine if data center space became cheaper, and regulation changes made it easier for a big player to negotiate terms.

A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News

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