consumer privacy

Digital Driver's Licenses in Phones Could Become a Reality

NBC 7 Responds looked at the pilot programs and privacy concerns over digital identification

NBC Universal, Inc.

In the digital age, many of us carry our phones at all times. A lot of information is stored on them, and ID cards like driver's licenses could be upcoming additions.

"It really is as convenient as people always thought it would be," said James Lee of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "It was secure, it was private, and the people who used it by and large love it."

Lee was talking about pilot programs carried out by several states across the country. Colorado, Maryland, Wyoming and Washington, D.C. all carried out a test over the last few years. California's DMV told NBC 7 that it is "currently in the initial exploratory stages" of digital licenses.

"We've been talking about this for probably a decade," Lee said. "Now we have the technology to make it easy, to make it private, make it secure."

Lee said the study ended in January and was very successful. Even though the idea has been around for awhile, it wasn't feasible until recently.

NBC 7 spoke with some San Diegans to see how they felt about the idea.

"It would be convenient because I sometimes leave my wallet at home, but I don't forget my phone," Rahmo Haji said.

Some people had concerns about privacy, but Lee thinks a digital ID actually helps protect your identity even more.

"It's the ultimate in user control," Lee said. "You get to determine who actually sees the information on your driver's license."

Whenever you hand over your ID or show it to someone, they're getting a lot of information they don't need. Lee said that if you go to a liquor store with a digital ID, it will only show them your name, picture and age.

"From the privacy perspective, I think this has a lot of advantages," Lee said. "I now have full control over who sees my license, how much they see, when they see it. I think that is a much preferable way than what we have today."

Lee listed some of the common issues that are brought up when a digital license is discussed. He said cell service wouldn't be an issue because it is stored directly on your phone. There's also the ability to wipe the license from your phone if you ever lose it.

Having your license on your phone isn't something that will happen overnight. Lee thinks it could take a decade before California's DMV makes the switch. The department told NBC 7:

"CA DMV is currently performing market research and gathering information from other entities in the mobile driver license (mDL) and identification credentialing community. This is a rather complex endeavor and much more research is needed."

Additionally, the department said there would need to be regulations put in place by each state. The DMV said the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is currently working on guidelines and standards for a mobile driver's license.

A few people we spoke to thought it would make renewing your license simpler, but they would still like to have a physical copy.

"I would not like the hard copy to disappear completely," Sam Carballo said. "I would definitely think both would be a really cool option."

Lee said the physical cards are here to stay for the next few years at least.

"We'll still have physical cards for awhile," Lee said. "There's a comfort factor in it, but there will be a point where you just don't need it anymore."

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