X-Road Trust Federation for Cross-border Data Exchange

The Governments of Estonia and Finland are exchanging data across borders in an X-Road Trust Federation. The countries had already developed and implemented their own national data exchange layers based on the X-Road technology. The two instances now communicate with each other in the first international interoperability ecosystem of its kind, facilitating the real-time availability of information on population and businesses in the face of increasing trans-border economic activity.

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A significant level of interdependence characterises the Finnish and Estonian economies. This applies to workers commuting between the two countries and businesses operating in trade, service, and the secondary sector – both nationally and across borders. With ever-increasing global economic integration, neighbouring countries see their economic relations tighten, and public administrations need to exchange accurate data on population and businesses securely.

Estonia and Finland, respectively, had already developed and implemented their national data exchange layers to enable interoperability across government agencies of the same country. Both data exchange platforms – X-tee in Estonia and Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer in Finland – are based on the same technology, X-Road. In this framework, all prerequisites were in place to give birth to the world's first X-Road Trust Federation.

X-Road is an open-source software solution that provides unified and secure data exchange between organisations. It is also a digital public good, verified by Digital Public Goods Alliance. The X-Road Trust Federation is an ecosystem for cross-border data exchange allowing for interoperability between two X-Road-based data exchange layers from different jurisdictions – be these regions, federal states, or countries.

By linking the two X-Road-based instances initially developed separately in Estonia and Finland, government agencies in the two countries are now exchanging relevant census and labour market data on population and businesses via the internet, across borders.

The high-level objectives of this novel interoperability framework are three-fold:

1) Enhancing capacity building on the matter of data exchange between the two countries. With already-existing political agreements on cross-border information access in place, X-Road offers an easy-to-deploy solution to support such exchange from a technical point of view.
2) Making information on Estonian and Finnish residents, workers, and businesses more readily available to relevant government counterparties to perform routine checks, provide operational permits, and maintain a high level of data accuracy across borders more seamlessly.
3) Allowing governments to keep pace with increasing economic and market interdependence between the two countries, with the outcome of smoothening public service provision to citizens, workers, and entrepreneurs.

The X-Road Trust Federation makes data on Estonian residents and businesses available to relevant, approved Finnish government agencies and vice-versa. This was achieved by capitalising on the previous national successes in interoperability across government agencies in the respective countries.

To start exchanging data on the platform, two government agencies must conclude a bilateral agreement setting the standards for the information exchange – data quality, responsibilities, and limitations. In a national X-Road environment, such formalised understanding is reached between two parties belonging to the same public administration or with the inclusion of private sector service providers. In the case of a cross-border X-Road Trust Federation, counterparties from two national X-Road instances configure their certificate verification standards and establish bilateral agreements to exchange information across borders seamlessly.

To this day, data is exchanged across borders between Estonia and Finland through 3 different channels and bilateral agreements: between national commercial registers (1), tax boards (2), and population registers (3).

Benefits are immediately identifiable in organisations’ reduced workload and request processing times. Public officials can access the data they need more seamlessly, shorten waiting times, increase information availability, and grant data accuracy. Thus, service provision becomes more hassle-free for the public administration involved. As a consequence, the recipient of such public services – be them citizens, workers, or businesses – enjoy a more efficiently operative public sector, have their data automatically available for the government entities they must interact with, and do not need to update personal or company-related information as these change in their home country.

The cooperation on cross-border interoperability between Estonia and Finland is deep-seated in memoranda and formal arrangements that dotted the past twenty years. Since 2019, the first data exchanges have been taking place on population management and core labour market information on workers and businesses. However, with the two national X-Road instances already fully developed and deployed in both countries, the potential for scalability of this cross-border X-Road Trust Federation is high. It already offers the necessary technical support for more international bilateral agreements to come to be.

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