Driver licenses stored on our phones are not too far down the road.
Residents of Arizona and Georgia will soon be able to use their iPhones and Apple watches as digital driver’s licenses or ID cards. People living in Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, Iowa, Utah and Connecticut will get the next feature. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is going to designate lanes at specific airports so that processing of these new digital IDs can begin so that people are clean for travel.
When residents add their state ID to their wallet, Apple explained in a press release Wednesday, they need to send a picture of their card and a picture of their face, and they have to “complete a series of faces and head movements during the setup process.” Depending on the verified states.In fact, this system seems to be a new form of government-supported biometric ID verification that is a process outside of a regular image that provides potential new data to the state government and Apple.
In the new TSA Lane, for example, Apple users will be able to tap their iPhones or Apple watches to an identity reader. They will then be shown the information requested by TSA and will allow their devices to send that data to TSA using Face ID or Touch ID. This, Apple says, “ensures that only the necessary information is shared and that only the person who has added the driver’s license or state ID to the device can present it.” The company added, “Users do not need to unlock, display or transfer their device to present their ID.”
Apple isn’t just launching digital driver’s licenses in the United States. The New York Times reports that New York State is working with IBM on the possibility of expanding its Excelsior Pass Vaccine Passport system to include driver’s licenses. The federal government is also associated with this idea. In April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it was looking for input for upcoming regulations for mobile digital driver’s licenses.
But is digital ID a good thing? From a privacy and security standpoint, this is vague – but they also seem inevitable.
The epidemic has helped some people become more comfortable storing personal information on their phones, which may explain why states and technology companies are moving forward with the idea of a digital driver’s license. These efforts involve an ongoing and highly polarized debate over digital vaccine passports, providing people with an easy way to prove they have been vaccinated so they can board a plane or go to a concert. Several states, including Florida and Texas, have banned or restricted vaccine passports, suggesting that some Americans still do not feel comfortable storing some highly personal information on their phones.
Although the technologies that give them power are similar in many ways, digital driver’s licenses are not the same as vaccine passports, because health records are not necessarily involved. Many plans and proposals are being considered, including Apple’s upcoming digital driver’s licensing system – just call for a secure, verifiable way to store all the information contained in your physical driver’s license on your phone. Proponents of the digital state identification system say the technology will make it more convenient to show your ID and give people more control over their information. Privacy and civil liberties advocates warn that normalizing the carrying of identity cards on our phones can have very bad consequences, including endangering our digital privacy.
Despite apparent support at the state and federal levels, some are concerned about the potential problems with digital IDs. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union released a detailed report highlighting problems with a digital state ID system, including concerns about police access to users’ phones, privacy and surveillance risks, and forcing people to download the government one day. The Apps Surveillance Technology Monitoring Project has also received a deal that reveals that it has larger plans for the New York State Excelsior Pass than initially disclosed, which could expose the risks of similar digital ID programs.
“It’s hard to believe officials’ claim that these apps are only going to do X or Y, ”said Albert Fox Kahn, an attorney at the Surveillance Technology Supervision Project, pointing to the possible expansion of the Excelsior Pass. “We can see that this clear pattern has been installed for one purpose and then extended to another.”
Fully digital wallets are just around the corner
The advent of digital ID shows how technology companies want to be increasingly involved in everything you do with your physical wallet. Both iPhone and Android can already store credit cards, plane tickets and event tickets in a digital wallet. Now, with the upcoming introduction of digital driver’s licenses, Apple is moving closer to making your physical wallet completely obsolete.
“In order to be completely free from your physical ID, we need to bring one more thing to the iPhone and that is your ID. That’s why we’re bringing our credentials to Apple Wallet, “said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president at Apple’s June developer conference. Your ID information is now in the wallet.
The federal government seems to support the idea. While DHS is setting new standards for technologies that strengthen digital IDs, TSA is already working with Apple to adopt a version of the iPhone-based digital ID that can be used at airports. Several states have previously founded and introduced digital driver’s licenses that can work with Apple Wallet (states are generally responsible for issuing ID cards in the United States). In a statement Wednesday, Bailey said Apple was in contact with other states and that the company was “working to make this offer nationwide in the future.”
Apple is not the first or only major technology company to try to bring digital ID to smartphones. Google is also working on a system for a digital driver’s license, and towards the end, the company has detailed new privacy and security standards for developers to register credentials on mobile devices. IBM is also researching digital driver’s licenses and is excited about how they can rely on blockchain technology.
A French security firm called Idemia has already launched digital IDs in partnership with several U.S. states, including Arizona and Oklahoma. The company argues that digital IDs make it easier to quickly verify someone’s identity, and allow an individual to share less of his or her personal information. For example, an app allows users to share their age to verify with someone that no one is old enough to buy alcohol without sharing their address, Idemia explains on its website.
The technology behind digital ID is not necessarily different from the technology behind vaccine passports. Opponents of the passport vaccine, however, have argued that the need for detailed health information to enter businesses and other public areas hurts people’s privacy and liberty. Still, some states where vaccine passports have been banned are moving forward with digital driver’s licenses.
In Florida, where Governor Ron de Santis has banned vaccine passports, DMV is expected to launch its mobile state ID system soon, and in Texas, whose state legislature has restricted the use of vaccine passports, lawmakers are considering a pilot program for digital drivers. Iowa, which has also restricted the use of vaccine passports, also plans to launch a mobile ID system later this year. In Nevada, where vaccine passports are a controversial issue, Governor Steve Sisolok officially signed the digital license in May, and the DMV says they could arrive in just a few years.
Whatever the case, it is clear that residents of several states will soon be able to save their driving licenses on their phones. What remains unclear is that we are moving towards a country where there are 50 different digital driver’s licenses and 50 different opportunities for problems and issues.
Updated, September 1, 2021: This piece has been updated with new information on how Apple’s digital state ID will work, with some states using the system first.