Estonia makes public software public

New Estonian law requires administration to make state-owned software publicly available

Published on: 02/07/2021
News

Estonia is known for its tech-savvy government, regularly topping international indicators, such as the European Commission’s DESI Index for Digital Public Services. The Estonian government states that “99% of governmental services are online” and “70% of citizens use their ID-card regularly” for digital government services. The infrastructure software enabling many of these services, X-Road, is already open source software, but recently the Estonian government decided to make all government software publicly available.

The Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, approved the necessary changes to the Estonian State Property Act on 12 May 2021, with the new rules coming into force on 1 June 2021. Under the new rules, all software to which the state owns the property rights in whole or part should be made available publicly. If only parts are owned by the state, those parts owned by the state should be made available.

According to the new rules, the authority in charge of the software decides if the software is to be made available and has to provide:

  1. a description of the public software to be made available for use;
  2. the conditions of use of the public software to be made available.

Certain restrictions apply, as if there would be a detriment to the state, such as potential threat to public order and national security or cybersecurity reasons, the authority in charge of the software can decide against making software publicly available.

With the decision, the Estonian parliament decided to join other countries in Europe, such as Spain, Italy and France, which already publish most of government-owned software publicly. These countries have designated central repositories for the publication, while Estonia already publishes software on koodivaramu.eesti.ee. The law is also in line with an increase in governments using and endorsing open source software in Europe.

Though Estonia’s public administration has released many government software projects under an open source license, until recently this was not an obligation by law but an individual decision. Estonia’s policies have concentrated on achieving the goal of interoperability, such as through the Interoperability of the State Information System: Software Framework and the National Interoperability Framework of the State Information System, without explicitly favouring open source software.