Apple says it’s time to scan your ID, ready or not

If you already have scanned a digital boarding pass directly from your phone to airport security, you can imagine how much easier doing the same with your driver’s license would make your life. Beginning in iOS 15 this fall, Apple will allow just that, allowing you to store your state ID alongside your credit cards, loyalty programs, transit fares, and even car and door keys in Apple Wallet. In doing so, the business will not only introduce convenience; it may well be the tipping point that is forcing more states, the US government, and even Android to make digital driver’s licenses the norm.

Apple itself is not launching a universal digital identification scheme; many others have started technically and geopolitically charge efforts to create a new type of private and secure identifier for all. And digital driver’s licenses aren’t entirely new. states like Oklahoma, Delaware, and Arizona recently worked with a company called IDEMIA to develop both the infrastructure and a companion app to support digital driver’s licenses. And Colorado and Louisiana introduced digital identifiers over two years ago.

It is still very early days, however. Every state that allows digital driver’s licenses still requires you to carry the physical version, and some mobile licenses currently cannot be used outside of the state that issued them. This is in part because the federal government is in the process of introducing new design requirements to make driver’s licenses more difficult to tamper with or manipulate, under the REAL ID Act. Apple hasn’t spoken directly about the issue, but will likely incorporate the ability to use out-of-state wallet credentials to steal.

In April, the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Strategy and Policy open a public comment period for digital ID security standards and platforms. Apple is also in direct contact with the TSA to obtain approval for Wallet-based driver’s licenses for use at airports.

“The TSA is working to make airport security checkpoints the first place you can use your digital ID,” said Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Wallet and Apple Pay, at the launch of iOS 15 last week. “When you present your ID, you will know what specific information is requested and securely presented.”

The International Organization for Standardization has also published a digital driver’s license standard, but it’s not clear if Apple is incorporating it. The standard is still in the status of “under development” and may evolve since digital identifiers are so new.

In general, however, proponents say digital IDs will ultimately be more secure and private than physical IDs. Mobile driver’s licenses can be locked with biometric authentication — FaceID or TouchID in the case of Apple. If someone steals your physical driver’s license, they could potentially show it to a bouncer or steal your personal information there. But a secure digital driver’s license, like Apple Wallet’s, would be inaccessible to anyone without their finger or face close at hand.

So far, digital driver’s license efforts have got off to a slow start in the United States. In Louisiana, for example, about 670,000 residents were using the state’s three-year-old digital identification system in May, or about 14 percent of the population. Apple’s support for driver’s licenses in Wallet makes the prospect of digital credentials much more tangible. But there are still plenty of questions about how the company will implement the feature and if your state will actually participate anytime soon.

Apple declined to comment on which states it works with and which driver’s licenses Wallet will support when the feature launches. The company also declined to say whether it plans to launch digital driver’s licenses with states that don’t already independently offer one.

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