The march toward a paperless tomorrow has made its way to the Iowa Department of Transportation, where officials have been weighing the concept of a digital driver license. The idea is simple. Put the plastic credential in the smart phone already carried by a majority of residents. But simple ideas are often complex executions.
The Iowa DOT has been working on the concept for about a year. MorphoTrust – the company that provides the physical driver license for most states, including Iowa – has been on it far longer.
The company says it’s in talks with several states about going digital. Delaware has announced that it will conduct a pilot, but Iowa is the first in America to actually take steps toward implementation. Iowa’s pilot is planned for some time in 2015 involving a small number of mainly Iowa DOT employees who carry state-issued iPhones.
For the pilot, the digital license will be presented in the form of a smartphone app. The data is encrypted and stored on the device. Security features on the smartphone protect the information, but additional safety measures are expected to be implemented before the official public launch.
“So many people are getting used to using their phone, whether it’s as their boarding pass to get on an airplane or carrying their insurance card,” says Jenny Openshaw, vice president of state and local sales at MorphoTrust. “It’s not a very big stretch to say, ‘every time I have to pull the card out of my wallet, what if I could pull my phone out?’”
The digital license will be offered as an option – not a replacement for the ID in your wallet – as physical cards will continue to be part of the mix. Once an applicant is vetted and approved for a driver license, the customer may choose to also accept a digital license.
Mark Lowe, director of Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division, is the force behind the digital license pilot. “A lot of folks are talking about whether we will see a time when there will be no physical licenses. My answer has always been that as the devices and adoption rates evolve, that will become more likely,” Lowe says.
In Iowa, the process will start when a digital user is issued a PIN giving them access to download the app. The customer will select their preferred biometric – a thumbprint or facial image – and the smartphone will be used to capture it.
This will be used to unlock the app in the future. When the app is opened in the future, the user will present the biometric to be verified. If successful, the app will be unlocked. Then it will communicate with DOT to verify that the device is authorized to present the license and that the license remains valid.
“We’re not just giving them an image of a driver license that resides in their phone,” Lowe stresses. “When the app gets opened, instead of it calling up a photo or an image, it’s communicating back to us and verifying that the device is authorized to present the license. It also verifies the validity of the license and populates with the latest information when it’s opened.”