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The Spring 2016 publication of re:ID magazine has a fascinating article about a pilot program in Iowa aimed towards issuing mobile driver’s licenses to its citizens. This program was also briefly addressed in a 2015 article at AllTechConsidered.

Of course, the knee-jerk response of many sardonic privacy advocates is: “What could possibly go wrong?” However, there seem to be as many positive features to this program as there are negatives.

In an attempt to allow you to draw your own conclusions about mobile ID cards, and a prediction for the ultimate goal of digital identification, here is an analysis of the good and the bad of such a program.

The current problem with the old cards that we carry with us is that many folks carry a cell phone and often do not carry a wallet. A mobile driver’s license would eliminate the need to carry a wallet. Some colleges have started using cell-phone technology to open doors since many students often have a phone yet forget their ID card when going to a class.

Another problem with the standard driver’s license is that when it is used as an identification card – for example, to verify the card-holder’s age – it offers too much information, such as the card-holder’s home address. The technology that is being built into the mobile driver’s license would allow a person to show only the required information.

Some questions about going fully digital and online with driver’s licenses begin with the idea that the entire infrastructure that stores the information would have to be changed in order to accommodate this new, broader use of online verification. This is not an impossible task, and it may be exactly what is needed for some of the aging systems in the infrastructure.

Another concern is that a person would have to hand their unlocked device to a third-party, defeating all of the privacy that the manufacturers have worked so hard to create and defend. Scanning methods, including the use of Bluetooth Low Energy, Near-Field Communication, and QR codes are also being explored as ways of verifying a person’s identity without the need to hand over the phone to a third-party.

What if the battery becomes depleted on the mobile device? A new technology that is being explored offers computing power without a battery. This could conceivably be used in the next generation of smart phones to store mobile identification information.

One could argue that the greatest hurdle to overcome with a mobile driver’s license is the problem of a lost, stolen, or broken device. However, since the online license would be available to a police officer, it would not be difficult for the officer to use the same facial recognition technology, such as that being used at JFK airport, to confirm that the person in the automobile is in fact who they purport to be.

With the growing use and funding for police body cameras, a snapshot of a motorist would not be difficult to obtain to compare to the record on file in the database that stores all of the driver information. This would also be true of a person who cannot afford a smartphone.

As all of these technologies mature and merge, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the ultimate goal of a mobile ID system is to eliminate a person’s need to carry any identification at all (without the ultra-paranoid idea of planting RFID chips into bodies).

Are we ready for this type of society?

One thing for certain is that this new use of technology is sure to heat up much more debate.

 

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this and other guest author articles are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.

Title image courtesy of ShutterStock