The next time you get pulled over by a cop for a traffic violation – which we hope isn’t a common occurrence – you may be showing the officer your driver’s license from your smartphone if you live in Iowa, which will likely be the first American state to issue digital driver’s licenses.
No more fumbling for your wallet or through your purse for a license that may actually be sitting at home or between the driver’s seat and gear shift, the new law makes it easier than ever to produce identification on demand.
We know that people are much less likely to leave a smartphone at home than their wallet, which is why mobile payments have become all the rage this year. Now add government-issued IDs to the mix, and you can travel even lighter.
But of course with anything involving personal information, there are already questions being raised about privacy and security. For example, when you are asked for your license by a police officer, do you have to hand over your phone, only to have the officer take it back to the patrol car to write up a report? If so, how do you know the officer won’t poke around for other bits of information or photos even without probable cause or a warrant?
The Iowa Department of Transportation has said in addition to containing the usual name, address, date of birth and physical characteristics, the digital license will also include a barcode that a law enforcement official could simply scan to get the relevant details.
And what about the general safety and security of the information? If we’ve learned nothing else this year, we know that electronic data is far from safe. The app containing the driver’s license would need to be near bullet-proof, and when open, not allow access to anything else that might be contained on the device.
There’s also a question of acceptance of the digital licenses outside of Iowa. When traveling and asked to provide ID at an airport or even just to get a glass of wine, will TSA officials and restaurant workers recognize the digital ID and accept it? A critical mass will need to be reached before showing ID on a phone becomes commonly accepted.
There might still be a few wrinkles to iron out, but Iowa is on to something that will catch on very quickly. Already more than 30 states have approved electronic proof of automobile insurance, making a digital driver’s license the next logical step.
After that, once we get medical and proof of health insurance in a universally accepted and consistent mobile format – with requisite safeguards to accommodate privacy and compliance with government regulations – wallets may finally become a quaint relic we tell our grandkids about.