US state Iowa to offer a smartphone driver’s licence

Jared Newman
12 December, 2014
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Apps, ios, iphone, drivers license, macworld australiaIowa could be the first state in the US to offer a smartphone driver’s licence, with plans to launch a free app in 2015.

According to The Des Moines Register, the licence will be a free option alongside a traditional licence. Iowa law enforcement offers will recognise the digital license during traffic stops and airport personnel will accept it during screenings. For security, accessing the licence will require a PIN.

It’s unclear which platforms Iowa plans to support, but a photo in the Register story shows the app running on an iPhone.

Why this matters: Smartphones can already store loyalty cards and event tickets, and they’re starting to stand in for credit cards with services like Apple Pay. But even as these services proliferate, identification will remain a major hurdle in completely replacing a physical wallet. Locals may still want to keep a physical licence around, but Iowa is taking a big step toward giving the option to leave it at home.

Questions and concerns

While a digital licensc sounds like a great idea, it does raise some questions – both practical and legal. It’s unclear, for instance, whether bars and restaurants will accept the licence, and it could be years before other states accept the digital licence at all.

Fake IDs could also be an issue in the switch to digital, as the person checking the ID could no longer look for special watermarks or imprints to verify a licence’s authenticity. A follow-up Register story says barcode scanning is a possibility, but that amounts to an added cost for businesses and government agencies.

Using a digital licence also becomes problematic from a civil liberties standpoint unless proper protections are in place. Typically, officers take licences back to their cars during a traffic stop, and if they had a phone instead, they could easily look through its contents. One solution might be to tie the licence to the phone’s lock screen, but this would require working with companies like Apple and Google to enable that functionality.

For these reasons, the digital licence probably won’t replace a physical one outright (just as credit cards haven’t replaced cash). But there are plenty of situations where you might want to leave your wallet at home, and it’s looking like you might be able to do so within a few years.

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