The Problem With Digital Drivers Licenses: Iowa Tests High Tech IDs

Digital drivers licenses could be safer but come with their own set of issues.

December 12, 2014, 12:30 PM

— -- Iowa is testing digital driver's licenses but the high-tech approach to carrying identification could come with its own set of issues.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said it will experiment with an app next year that will allow users to trade in their plastic cards. State employees will be the first test group.

No timeline was released as to when the digital licenses could be implemented with the general public, however Mark Lowe, a director at the Department of Transportation, said there are still a number of issues that will need to be resolved.

Among them: How a user can put their license on multiple devices, as well as security issues, including how to keep someone else from using your digital license.

Another big issue: What if you're stopped and need to hand the officer your digital license?

"That is one of the things people had concerns about," Lowe told ABC News. "Once the officer has that, can he rifle through my phone?"

Before the digital license goes public, Lowe said the Department of Motor Vehicles hopes to create a feature that will lock the screen when the owner needs to hand over their smartphone, sealing off the contents of their phone from any potential snooping.

It may not even be necessary to show your digital license in the future, Lowe said. "These devices allow us to communicate with other devices. The long-term concept is we may simply be able let one mobile device talk to another."

How It Works

One reason for going digital is safety.

The digital license will show the driver's face in 3-D, allowing officers to better match the person in the photo to the one they're speaking with.

Accessing the license will require a unique PIN code, allowing users to make sure their private information doesn't fall into someone else's hands.

"Not just anybody can download [the app]," Lowe said. "We need to know that after we have vetted you, you're the person accessing the app."

Once it's on a user's phone, the PIN code will act as one security measure, however Lowe said he envisions even more precise controls in the future.

"A thumb print or finger print or facial recognition or voice or iris image," he said. "We have to change this static thing in your pocket to something that is live."

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