Digital driver’s license - your ID in your smartphone

Source: Gemalto on January 2, 2017

The world is evolving rapidly towards mobile and digital formats for many everyday tasks.

Key drivers for this trend are convenience and ease of use for transactions that require some form of identification. And one of the most used documents to confirm identity is looking at going down this route - the driver's license

The primary goals of the driving license, whether physical or digital, remain to confirm identity and to confer the right to drive a vehicle. 

During the course of 2015 and 2016, studies and pilots have been launched in several states in the US to explore the technical feasibility of a digital driver's license.

There, digital driver's licenses also named mobile driver's licenses are set to retain the key visual aspects of a physical driver's license, displaying the driver's personal information - name, address and date of birth, along with his photo.

Various technologies are considered to address but security and user friendliness will be key drivers.

There's more.

The topic is now receiving even more federal attention.

In August 2016, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded a grant to further support the development of trusted identities based on Digital Driver's License provided by states.

Through a $2M grant awarded to Gemalto, four jurisdictions – Idaho, Colorado, Maryland and Washington D.C. – will soon be implementing a pilot for a secure Digital Driver's License (DDL), which many believe to be the future of trusted identities.

There are striking similarities in challenges and potential benefits with what is called a "national eID scheme" in many other countries where states are including digital identity as a defining feature in a digital space of trust, with good levels of security, interoperability and data protection.

See our January 2016 white paper on national identity schemes to learn more on this topic. 

Convenience of the mobile format – potential new identification use cases  

Beyond the important security aspects, issuing authorities have shown particular interest in the universal convenience of this mobile format:

  • Convenience for holders, who can travel lighter with a digital driver's license, instantly updatable, on their phone.
  • Convenience for law enforcement or other parties wanting to verify identity and privileges.
  • Convenience for issuing authorities who can explore new services needing such a trusted and secure channel for sharing and validating identity. 

The driver's license has been a standard for decades, acting not just as proof that you can drive but as an ID to verify age and identity, opening mobile driver's license to many usages such as:

  • Police controlroadside stops to identify the driver of a vehicle and his/her privileges.
  • Proof of age: where purchase of alcoholas in many countries, is restricted to people aged 18 or more, verified by the retailer. 
  • Car rentalto identify the renter, ensure driving privileges and share attributes (address…etc )
  • Identity validation or confirmation for hotel check-in, financial institutions, social services...
  • Online authenticationfrom access control to identity verification…

Digital driver's license - The 2016 US landscape

Iowa was the first state decide to test digital driver's license in 2014. It started a pilot on an IOS platform with 100 state employees at the end of 2015. The goal was to test the daily usability of the solution. The Department of Transportation hopes to make the app public in 2017.

Several legislatures (legislative body of States in the United States) authorize the study of smartphone driver's license such as Arizona, Illinois, Utah and Texas to name a few.

Some other states have legislation under consideration. Idaho, Colorado, Maryland and Washington D.C are now on their way to set up a pilot funded by a federal grant.

  • In Tennessee, legislation (HB556) enacted in May 20, 2015 authorizes the State DMV to develop a secure "electronic driver license system" and to display electronic images on a cellular phone or any other portable electronic device.
  • In Arizona the Senate Bill 1237 bill was passed and signed on May 11, 2016.  The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has to study and specify what may be done with an electronic driver license.
  • In Utah, Bill 227 effective in May 2016 requires the Driver License Division and Department of Technology Services to study and report findings and recommendations regarding electronic driver licenses.
  • In Louisiana, Bill 481 was signed by Governor Edwards on June 23, 2016. The law outlines requirements for a digitized driver's license. It allows persons to use the digitized license in lieu of a physical license when stopped by law enforcement.  The proposed law provides that display of the digital driver's license shall not serve as consent to search the mobile device. A fee of up to $6 can be charged for use of the electronic credential application.
  • Kentucky was considering the topic as well but the feasibly study has not been launched as the measure did not receivea hearing.
  • In California, the state legislature passed a bill (February – September 2015) to study the feasibility of a digital mobile driver's license app for smart phone. It was however vetoed by Governor of California Jerry Brown in October 2015.
  • In New Jersey, the bill introduced in January 2016 has been withdrawn from consideration in February 2016.
  • In Illinois, the Legislature approved a resolution in 2015 that created an Electronic Driver's License Task Force to study the feasibility of a digital/mobile DL.  The Task Force reported its finding on April 21, 2016. It recommended that the Secretary of State continue to monitor advancements in mobile driver's license technology.
  • In March 2015, North Dakota passed HCR 3036, a bill to study implications of driver's licenses for smart phones. However, the measure has not been considered as of October 2016 by Legislative Management.
  • In August 2016, through a $2M grant awarded to Gemalto, Idaho, Colorado, Maryland and Washington D.C. are to set a pilot for a secure Digital Driver's License (DDL). Its goals are to define and create a convenient and secure way for citizens and authenticating parties to exchange and verify government-issued credential information via smartphone.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Working Group is looking at DDL standards and their specifications.

The legal environment is also positively impacted by the famous Riley v. California case of September 2014. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Police may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a mobile phone seized from an individual during an arrest.

This makes it easier for states to implement DDL solutions since the court is clear: police cannot arbitrarily search phones.

Other initiatives around the world

  • In Australia, New South Wales announced in November 2015 the introduction for 2016 of digital driving licenses on smartphones and in February 2016 the press revealed that Victoria is also analyzing technology to produce digital driver's licenses in the next few months. Western Australia State announced a plan to turn driver's licenses into digital IDs in April 2016

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