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18th Feb 2020

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Estonia picks Luxembourg for 'ultimate backup'

  • Estonia will build servers in Luxembourg as an 'ultimate backup' (Photo: European Union)

Estonia chose Luxembourg as the country to store a comprehensive backup of government data because it had the best infrastructure, Estonian prime minister Juri Ratas said on Friday (30 June).

There were “some countries on the table”, Ratas told EUobserver at a press conference in Tallinn, without naming names.

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Estonia calls the out-of-border backup, which will include copies of its citizens' health data, population data, and business registries, a data embassy.

“It is the first data embassy in the world,” said Ratas, who spoke to journalists a day before the Baltic country takes over the six-month lasting EU presidency.

Earlier this month, he had travelled to Luxembourg to sign an agreement on the data embassy with prime minister Xavier Bettel.

The data embassy will comprise a set of servers that host copies of data the Estonian government has collected.

A lot of interactions Estonians have with the state take place digitally, said Siim Sikkut, chief information officer at the Estonian government.

“If we lose digital records, we are done as a country. We don't keep paper backups,” he told a group of journalists earlier on Friday.

Sikkut, who advises the Estonian government on ICT policies, said the plan for the data embassy was made with idea that “ultimately things in Estonia can fail”.

“Servers can burn down, we can have a natural disaster,” he said, also mentioning a cyber attack as a possibility.

“The whole point is to be ready for anything that can happen.”

The Estonian government decided that it should keep an “ultimate backup” outside of the country's borders.

Because the government wanted to keep “full control”, it was not possible to simply upload all data to a commercial host.

“Private clouds, like the Google's, Amazon's, you name them, is not an option for us. There we won't have control,” said Sikkut.

“But hey, physical embassies are our territory abroad.”

The data embassy would also allow Estonia's government to continue to function when it is not able to do so from its home territory.

Sikkut brought to mind that during the Soviet occupation, there was an Estonian government in exile.

The Luxembourg backup would allow Estonia to work as a “virtual exile government”.

Sikkut added that the data embassy should be up and running by the end of the year.

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