The first ideas for establishment of an electronic identity card of the new generation emerged in the institute of Cybernetics in 1994-1995. Several documents were prepared and articles written at that time. As the technology was not yet ready (there were no RSA-based smart cards) and there was no social agreement on the issue, the project failed to receive any state support and the respective activities were suspended.
Development of the current Estonian ID-card was started in 1997 when the internal circles of the Citizenship and Migration Board began discussing the format for the future ID-card. At the end of the same year, Tarvi Martens, Ahto Buldas (Küberneetika AS) and Jaan Piirsalu (Hansabank) presented a draft project on launching the ID-card to the Citizenship and Migration Board and the Informatics Centre, specifying a respective necessary preparation period of at least 15 months.
In the beginning of 1998, the idea was brought to public attention and ever since, the development of the ID-card has involved several committees and other structures. Several representatives of the private sector met on 10 March 1998 under the initiative of Tõnu Liik, an adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs. On 11 May 1998, a “Committee for development of the identification certificate and its technical specification” was created based on a directive of the Minister of Internal Affairs. The committee consisted of representatives of the public sector, several state institutions and a few private companies. The committee was lead by Kaja Kuivjõgi, the Deputy Director General of the Citizenship and Migration Board. The following publications were prepared as a result of the work of the committee:
- “The initial study of the ID-card” (AS Aprote), where the requirements of parties interested in the ID-card were specified
- “An overview of smart card standards, profiles and technologies” (Küberneetika AS), providing an overview of the cutting edge smart card technologies available in the world.
- At its meeting held on 6 July 1998, the committee touched an idea to create a foundation for covering the issues relating to the ID-card and involving private finances. However, the respective discussion was postponed. Work results of the committee were introduced at a public seminar in the beginning of 1998 in the National Library and this concluded the functions of the committee.
Next, the Estonian Informatics Centre created the “ID-card Work Group” (TK4-ID) with its directive from 11 March 1999. The group was lead by Tarvi Martens (AS Küberneetika) and it included representatives from the banking sector, the Citizenship and Migration Board, ID Süsteemide AS and the Estonian Informatics Centre. The work of the group was aimed at ID-card related pilot projects and standardisation. The group was intended to be an advisory expert body in issues relating to the ID-card. The work group lead an inspection of international standards on ID-cards, created application instructions for carrying out ID-card related pilot projects and took the first steps towards creation of the Estonian ID-card profile. The work group was also used for carrying out an ID-card pilot project in three institutions under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the Citizenship and Migration Board, the Police, the Border Guard) in autumn/winter 1999.
In the first phase of the ID-card project there were really two projects that we can talk about. Possibilities of electronic identity cards were researched in technological circles mostly with regard to digital signing, but also electronic authentication and other applications. On the other hand, the state was convinced that new and more convenient means of personal identification were needed besides passports. These two directions are identified also in the two laws. The decision to make the ID-card a combination of a new type of personal identification card and a mandatory electronic identity was made only at the final stages of the project.