If you look at the contents of your wallet, most of it has been replaced by something digital. I know that my wallet is 90% of the way there, but merchants haven’t caught up. One piece of plastic that is quintessential to conducting business and navigating our daily lives is our identification – whether it be a driver’s license or state-issued identification (I’ll be collectively referring to them as just “ID”).
It and passports are the only key pieces of plastic where there’s been no movement to make them digital.
When you look at ID and factor out all the technology implemented to them to make them difficult to counterfeit, there’s a lot of information to be found, but two questions remain: Does all that information need to be there, and what is stopping the state from making a digital ID?
Our cellphone screens are actually larger than our ID and the image that could be created to represent our driver’s licenses could be crisper than the physical cards we carry. The beauty of electronic identification is that a separate app wouldn’t be needed considering mobile operating systems could be designed to accommodate the identification with a button on the home screen. Even better would be the ability of the user to access that ID from the lock screen in a pinch.
Using the concept of device tokens described here, the state could develop a secure method of getting the ID to your phone and installed. This has several advantages: The state won’t need to print temporary cards, there wouldn’t be a need to mail out a piece of plastic, and it’s more difficult to forge a digital ID than is a piece of plastic.
Creating electronic ID would remove the need for expiration dates for worn out or damage cards; effectively creating ID that only expires when you move to a new state. State law could still require the consumer to visit the DMV when major changes need to take place, but changes would become effective in the system and be sent to your phone within minutes. If the state still has the need to renew ID cards periodically, it could pair the expiration date to the phone’s calendar and alert you within a month when the renewal is due. The consumer could be presented with the option to renew their ID by using the card stored in their phone, or be taken to the DMV’s website to process the renewal.
The hardest part about the deployment of electronic ID will be promoting its usage among people. In the United States, skepticism of government handling our personal information, especially where data breaches have become semi-common, makes for a distrusting environment. You can require people to sign confidentiality agreements, but once the damage is done, the problem becomes bigger than any court can resolve. You can run in-depth background checks, but then you have Edward Snowden. You can establish SOPs for the handling of personal information and the hardware it sits on, including chain of custody documents, but if independent audits aren’t conducted and/or breaches aren’t punished, there is no accountability.
Inevitably, for electronic ID to exist and work properly, vendors have to prove that are taking steps to protect consumer’s personal information, and governments need to prove that they are serious about preventing data breaches and malicious handling of information.