Digital Licenses: A New Challenge for Fake ID Makers?

In the digital age, the global trend is rapidly evolving towards digital and mobile platforms to perform everyday tasks.

The primary motivations for this trend are the ease of use as well as convenience in any transaction that will require proof of identification. One of the most common and widely issued forms of identification is the driver’s license or state ID card.

The main objective of carrying a driver’s license, be it a digital or physical form, is to positively confirm the identity of an individual and verify their right to operate a vehicle.

Over the past few years, there have been several pilot programs in effect to test the technical and logistical feasibility of using a digital driver’s license rather than a physical card.

Commonly referred to as a mobile driver’s license, the ID itself is set to maintain the same visual features as the physical copy. Those features include the typical information found on an ID card- address, date of birth, and name, along with a clear photo.

Businesses throughout the world are facing major identification challenges in the form of losing licenses, getting penalties for serving underage people. Hence, they are looking for a substitute form of identification which enhances their ability to spot fakes.

Digital licenses seem like the next logical step into the future, but how will makers address the critical concerns of security and user-friendliness?

The Wave of the Future

Recently, the concept of digital licensing has been receiving quite a bit of federal recognition. In August 2016, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was awarded a coveted grant to study the advancement of trusted identities based on the Digital Driver’s License issued by the states.

With grant money in hand, four states began executing a pilot program, testing the security of the Digital Driver’s License (DDL). Wyoming joined these four states, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Idaho, and Maryland, in 2017.

In each pilot program, there were extraordinary challenges and similarities pertaining to the potential benefits of what is referred to as an “eID scheme.”

The same difficulties and similarities have been seen worldwide in countries that incorporate a digital identity as a defining attribute in a digital space of trust. The essential features in these test programs were proper security, data protection, and interoperability.

How They Will Be Used

Overlooking the potential security issues, most licensing authorities have shown a great interest in the overall convenience and portability of the mobile format. The portable format has many benefits, including:

  • Ease of use for cardholders, who can travel freely with a digital driver’s license, can be updated directly on their mobile device.
  • It is convenient for law enforcement officers who are required to verify identities and driving privileges.
  • They are practical and efficient for issuing authorities who will be able to validate identity over a secure channel.
  • Once digital IDs become the standard, they will offer a wide variety of compatibility in many everyday situations.
  • They will be used as age verification for purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, or other restricted items. It can also be used to rent a car or to check into a hotel. Lastly, mobile identification will also offer quick and easy online verification methods.

What is the Current Landscape?

There are quite a few sizable hurdles for the implementation of the digital license—the biggest of those hurdles being security from identity theft. Despite the significant challenges and uphill battle the measure faces, the concept is still making progress across the nation.

In 2014, Iowa became the first state in the nation to experiment with a digital license in 2014. The state began a pilot program on the iOS platform and involved 100 state employees.

The overall goal of the program was to test the limits and daily usability of the digital platform. The overall feeling was the test was a success. Additionally, the Department of Transportation plans to release a public version of the app in 2020.

Other state legislatures to experiment with the authorization of a smartphone driver’s license are Texas, Utah, Illinois, and Arizona.

In addition to the previously mentioned states that are utilizing grant money to fund a pilot program, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Working Group is looking for DDL standards and appropriately adapting them for everyday use.

The political climate seems to be shifting in favor of this measure, but where does it stand in the court system? The legal environment has embraced the infamous court case of Riley v. California in 2014. In this groundbreaking legal battle, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police did not have a right, without a warrant, to search a digital device for information during an arrest openly.

This case has already laid out the groundwork for opening up the digital ID platform. The court decision makes it much easier for individual states to implement DDL technology. Citizens will have the peace of mind that the police cannot search phone arbitrarily.

Lastly, in a study issued by one of the largest auto insurance providers in the nation, Allstate Corporation, 47 of the 50 states allow an electronic copy of their insurance card to be used during a traffic stop.

Requirements of a Digital License

To function successfully, a digital license needs to address four critical requirements to be widely accepted and create a true digital identity.

A digital license needs to be:

  • Available both online and offline.
  • Pass rigorous levels of security testing to give users peace of mind.
  • Adaptable and interoperable to maintain compatibility between different authorities.
  • Able to adequately manage the integrity of the data throughout the lifecycle of the process. That is from the time of enrollment to an in-field verification.

Currently, the technology is there, but it still lacks in some areas. With that in mind, it will be some time before mobile licenses will completely replace their physical counterparts. For the time being, the two will exist side-by-side, and the digital ID will complement the physical ID.

Advantages of a Digital License

Unlike a traditional physical driver’s license, a digital license will never have to be physically present with the owner. The authority verifying the user’s license in the field will be able to access, in real-time, a live authentication database.

This database will draw on a separate version of the application, which will be paired with an authentication device. This can be in either the form of a reader or even a smartphone.

There is no trace or footprint left on the device, and ideally, there is no geo-location tracking or tagging of the user’s information.

The trend of digital fake IDs on the blackmarket is already thriving. However, it will be an extremely difficult process to verify & validate an online version of a driver’s license. States in the US will have the individual responsibility to roll out application based services for each of their licenses to major businesses.

Additionally, a digital driver’s license will allow the issuer to have even greater control over the in-use credential activity. For instance, it can alert the user every time the card is used for verification or when it is about to expire.

Users will be able to quickly and easily update their personal information or even renew their licenses in-app. This will save time and money for both the user and the issuer. Controllability and convenience will drive this technology into existence and create a more efficient and secure way of authenticating identity.

Even though this technology might be a few years from reality, it is the next logical step to making users’ lives more comfortable and secure. Digital licenses will no longer be a thing of the future and allow people across the nation to save both time and resources.

This case has already laid out the groundwork for opening up the digital ID platform. The court decision makes it much easier for individual states to implement DDL technology. Citizens will have the peace of mind that the police cannot search phone arbitrarily.

Lastly, in a study issued by one of the largest auto insurance providers in the nation, Allstate Corporation, 47 of the 50 states allow an electronic copy of their insurance card to be used during a traffic stop.

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