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“Digital Driver’s License and Registration Please”: Are Mobile Licenses Secure?

That familiar request may soon prompt you to reach for your smartphone, not your wallet. With mobile driver‘s licenses rolling out across the U.S., you may never need to fish through your purse or pockets for your physical ID again. But is your personal data secure with a digital ID?

As a cybersecurity professional with over 10 years of experience in encryption and identity management, I’ll walk through how digital licenses work, their security protections, and some of the privacy considerations as this new technology advances.

What Exactly is a Digital Driver’s License?

A digital driver’s license is a virtual version of your physical license, stored on your phone and accessible through your state’s approved app or digital wallet.

Over 25 states have active mobile ID programs or pilots in progress, with nationwide adoption expected by 2025, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).

This means your driver’s license can now live in your Apple Wallet or Google Wallet, similar to a credit card. But unlike simply taking a photo of your license, legitimate mobile IDs involve identity verification through your state’s DMV records.

Once approved through this process, your digital license becomes an official credential accepted wherever state laws permit use of mobile IDs.

How Do Mobile IDs Work? Unpacking the Technology

The specifics can vary slightly by state, but generally here is how mobile driver’s licenses function:

1. Initiate your Mobile ID

First, you’ll need to initiate your digital license through your state’s approved app or federal mobile ID framework like This involves authenticating your identity by scanning your license barcode or code and taking a live selfie.

For example, Colorado’s myColoradoTM app walks you through this entire process to add your digital ID.

2. Verify your identity

Your information and selfie then get sent to your state’s DMV system for verification. Using advanced cryptography, they validate that:

  • The barcode data matches your official DMV record
  • Your selfie matches your license photo

3. Receive your mobile ID

Once approved, your digital license gets issued through your state’s app and can also be added to your phone’s wallet for easy access.

You’ll access your mobile ID by authenticating through biometrics like face or fingerprint scanning, a PIN code, or password. This allows you to securely provide your license details when required.

Adding Your License to Your Digital Wallet

If available in your state, you can add your mobile license to your phone‘s pre-installed wallet app for quick access:

Apple Wallet

Over 10 states are on track to offer integration with Apple Wallet by the end of 2022. Once active, adding your license takes just a few steps:

  1. Open the Wallet app and tap the + icon.
  2. Select your driver’s license option.
  3. Scan the front and back of your physical license.
  4. Take a selfie and confirm your information.
  5. Review and agree to the terms.
  6. Wait for approval from your DMV.

Once added, just double-click your iPhone‘s side button to access your license.

Google Wallet

Google is launching its own mobile ID support soon. You‘ll be able to:

  1. Open the Google Wallet app.
  2. Select to add your license.
  3. Scan your physical license and take a selfie.
  4. Verify your identity through prompts.
  5. Receive confirmation when your digital license is approved.

Security Features Keep Your Data Safe

I know what you may be thinking…is a digital ID really secure? Rest assured mobile licenses store your personal information safely using advanced encryption.

Access requires multi-factor authentication through passwords, PIN codes, biometrics like face authentication, or a combination of these.

Apple and Google also keep your license data private, only displaying necessary information to verify your identity, age, or other requirements prompted.

Additionally, digital licenses provide other enhanced security compared to physical cards:

  • Better than photocopies: Identity verification prevents unauthorized copies of your license.
  • Selective information sharing: You control what license data gets shared, unlike handing your full license to others.
  • Remotely disable access: If your phone is lost or stolen, you can wipe your mobile ID remotely.
  • Tamper-proof credentials: Encryption and authentication prevent manipulation of license data.
  • No physical wear and tear: Digital licenses avoid damage like frayed edges that could hinder scanning.

States like Iowa have pioneered rigorous security standards for their mobile IDs. Biometric binding, cryptographic provenance validation, and perimeter-based cybersecurity defense are just some of the measures in place.

Where Can You Use Your Digital License Today?

While adoption is still emerging, more locations now accept mobile IDs for identification, age verification, and other needs:

  • Airports: The TSA is piloting digital licenses at security checkpoints in over a dozen airports, including LAX, Miami International, and Reagan National. Always carry your physical license too as backup.
  • Rental cars: Major agencies like Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, and National allow mobile IDs for car rentals.
  • Hotels: Large chains like Hyatt and MGM Resorts have rolled out mobile ID acceptance at check-in.
  • Restaurants/bars: States like Iowa, Louisiana, and Ohio allow digital licenses for age verification at establishments that serve alcohol.
  • Retailers: Walmart, 7-Eleven, and CVS are starting to test acceptance of digital IDs where age validation is required.

State DMVs: Over 25 state DMVs integrate mobile IDs for driver’s license renewals, vehicle registration, and more.

State DMV Services Accepting Mobile ID
Arizona License/ID renewal and replacement
Colorado Vehicle registration renewal
Hawaii Driver’s license renewal
Iowa License renewal; REAL ID application
Maryland Identification; age verification
Utah License/ID application and renewal

And this is just the beginning – expect digital license adoption to accelerate across modes of transportation, retail, hospitality, healthcare, banking, and government services.

The Many Benefits of Mobile Identification

Beyond convenience, mobile IDs offer powerful advantages:

  • Contactless interactions: Display your license without close physical contact.
  • Enhanced security: Advanced encryption and remote wipe capabilities better protect against fraud.
  • Greater privacy: Selectively share just necessary ID details rather than your full license.
  • Operational efficiency: Digital IDs speed verification and reduce staff overhead for providers.
  • Innovation platform: Opens opportunities for further digital government services and commerce.

According to an AAMVA survey, over 90% of motor vehicle agencies are shifting focus to mobile driver’s licenses and electronic credentials to offer more convenient, secure services.

Privacy Concerns to Consider

While mobile IDs aim to provide both convenience and security, new technology also raises important privacy considerations:

  • Location tracking: Like smartphones, digital licenses could enable location tracking of users by governments or companies.
  • Data mining: Centralized data from digital ID checks may be vulnerable to misuse or abuse without proper safeguards.
  • Discrimination: Bias could be programmed into identity verification algorithms disproportionately impacting marginalized groups.
  • Exclusion: Unequal access to smartphones could prevent some groups like the elderly and low-income from obtaining mobile IDs.
  • Cybersecurity risks: Like any connected system, mobile IDs could potentially be compromised by hackers without rigorous ongoing security.

Government oversight, protection for marginalized groups, ethical application of technology, and community input will be critical as more states advance digital licenses.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Mobile Identification

While still in early stages, our driver’s licenses may soon live permanently on our phones or other mobile devices.

Internationally, Canada, the U.K., E.U., Australia, Nigeria and other countries are also piloting mobile ID systems for streamlined travel and government services.

With air travel returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, expanding TSA acceptance of digital licenses could be a gamechanger for airport security lines and boarding.

As more states onboard over the next 3-5 years, mobile IDs create an opportunity to rethink not just driver’s licenses, but all physical documents that verify our identity and credentials in a digital-first world.

But as with any new technology, it will be critical that security, privacy, and equal access remain top priorities to earn the public‘s trust. Done responsibly, mobile IDs could offer the convenience we desire while protecting what matters most – our personal data.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.