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Tech Matters: All about mobile drivers license in Apple Wallet

By Leslie Meredith - | Sep 8, 2021

Leslie Meredith

Utah will be among the first eight states to allow its citizens to carry their driver’s license on their iPhone and Apple Watch. While this may seem like a simple feat, it requires the coordination of government offices, police departments, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), our airport, Apple and, of course, you.

Apple said last week that Arizona and Georgia will be the first two states to activate the new ID method, followed by Utah, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland and Oklahoma. “Utah has always been a forward-looking state,” Jess Anderson, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “We regularly hear from people who want to access their driver license through their phones.” While a specific schedule for the rollout across Utah has not yet been announced, the feature should become available with the release of iOS 15 a few days following Apple’s event on Sept. 14.

If you’re not familiar with Apple Wallet, it is an app on the iPhone and Apple Watch that already offers easy access to gift cards, airline boarding passes, event tickets, car keys, student IDs and credit cards — items you would normally put in your physical wallet. Often, a barcode is used to allow the user to authenticate at a location without handing over their phone.

The process of getting your driver’s license onto your phone seems fairly straightforward, and as you would expect, is more involved than adding a Starbucks gift card. You’ll first have to update your phone to iOS 15, which is compatible with iPhone 6S and later. Open the Apple Wallet app, tap the plus sign in the upper right corner of the screen and tap the card type. You will be instructed to scan your physical driver’s license and then take a selfie. As an extra measure of security you will also be prompted to complete a series of facial and head movements. This information will be automatically sent to the state for verification. Once verified, your digital driver’s license will be added to Wallet.

The big benefit of the digital driver’s license is the control the owner has over his device and data. Apple’s system relies on a reader that is tapped to transmit the information, similar to a tap-to-pay system at many retailers, which means there is no need to hand over your phone to another individual. This also means that any government office, bar or other business requiring an ID would have to install special readers first.

Currently, the only entity we know that will accept the new identification method is TSA at selected airports. We can assume that at some point, Utahns will be able to use their digital IDs as they pass through security at Salt Lake International Airport. Apple explained that passengers will tap their phones on the reader, they will then be shown what data will be shared, prompted to use FaceID or TouchID to verify they match the information on the phone and then activate the sharing of their data. Note users do not have to unlock, show or hand over their device when showing credentials to the reader.

In addition to the privacy measures above, Apple described other measures to protect users. It said issuing states will not be able to know when or where users present their IDs, identity data is encrypted and protected against tampering and theft, data transmissions between a user’s device and a reader are also encrypted. And if a phone or watch is lost, the owner can remotely deactivate it and wipe all of the data.

For now, our physical licenses are here to stay due to the lack of hardware beyond TSA. But it’s becoming easier to envision a future where all you’ll need is your phone with hard copies safely locked away. Apple said that soon Wallet will also provide access to a customer’s home, hotel rooms and corporate ID badges.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past nine years. She has designed and manages several international websites and now runs the marketing for a global events company. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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