You’re stopped by an officer on the highway who needs to see your driver’s license. A bartender requests proof that you are of legal drinking age. The boarding agent at the airport needs to make sure you are who you say you are.
You’d typically pull out your wallet to grab your driver’s license. You reach for your smartphone instead.
Such behavior isn’t the norm – yet. But about a dozen states are in various stages of testing mobile or digital driver’s licenses that operate on smartphones, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), which represents the departments of motor vehicles in North America that issue such licenses.
For example, a company named IDEMIA (formerly MorphoTrust) began testing a so-called Mobile Driver’s License (mDL) with the state of Iowa in 2015. A test with Delaware came later, and another will soon start up in Oklahoma.
In 2016, the global digital security company, Gemalto received a two-year grant from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to pilot smartphone-based digital driver’s licenses (DDLs) in Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.
Other companies working on mobile driver’s licenses include Canadian Bank Note, Entrust Datacard, GET Group, HID Global and Veridos.
Not just a digital copy of the physical license
“With IDs in particular, long gone are the days where a physical driver’s license was truly just a physical driver’s license,” says Tiffany Conway, director of field marketing for government programs at Gemalto. “The physical license is just a format of that digital record that already exists today. But now you are able to access it through the convenience of your smartphone or potentially in the future a smartwatch or smart piece of jewelry.”
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Ian Grossman, a vice president at the AAMVA, cites two of the biggest potential benefits of a digital license. “It reduces dramatically the chances that that driver’s license is a counterfeit document and (verifies) that it belongs to you.”
What’s more, a digital license can be updated quickly with a new address or other changes. If the phone is lost or stolen, the license can be wiped remotely before a new digital version is issued.
And consumers can choose to limit the information that is shared.
“When I go to show my (physical) driver’s license today, I’m basically disclosing my name, my address, my full date of birth, a lot of personally identifiable information that isn’t needed to enable that transaction,” says Matt Thompson, a senior vice president for identity solutions at IDEMIA. “A mobile driver’s license only discloses the information that’s necessary for the transaction you’re trying to conduct.”
So that bartender, for instance, would only be able to see your picture with an indication that you are “over 21” or “under 18”
Another built-in privacy provision is meant to prevent the DMV that issues the digital license from tracking your location when you’re at the wheel or anyplace else.
Moreover, if you are pulled over by law enforcement on the highway, you’ll remain in possession of the phone since the officer can access your credentials wirelessly, via Bluetooth Low Energy, or perhaps NFC technology.
Meanwhile, a cellular or Wi-Fi connection won’t be required.
Of course, since motorists drive from one state to another, any digital license that is issued must ultimately be recognized elsewhere.
How long will it take?
The AAMVA is hammering out the standards to permit interoperability in the U.S. and Canada, as well as other technical requirements, the first version of which may be issued in about six months. There’s precedent. The organization was also behind the design standards that are on physical driver’s licenses.
It will take longer before digital licenses become widespread, though. Grossman figures it will take three to five years, in part because of money issues or because a state has more immediate priorities. A few states, though, will be ahead of the curve.
Louisiana has already given the green light to its digital driver’s license, the LA Wallet, developed by a company called Envoc. Motorists can use it for traffic stops or police checkpoints, and the state approved it recently to verify ages for a person seeking to buy alcohol or tobacco. It is not yet, however, accepted at airport security and in other states.
Louisiana residents can fetch the app on Google Play or Apple’s App Store; a $5.99 fee activates it for legal usage.
When and if your state issues a digital license, expect to carry your physical license as a backup, at least for a while. It’ll be there in case your phone conks out.
“The phone dying? I would equate that to the idea of being pulled over while you left your license at home,” Grossman says. “If that’s the credential you are relying on, you need to be responsible to have it on you, just as you’re responsible for remembering to make sure your wallet’s in your pocket when you drive.”
Check with your DMV to see if your state is offering such mobile driver’s licenses and whether you are eligible to receive one. Grossman says that some of the states running pilots are restricting access for now to agency or government employees.