Progress for US mobile driving licenses is halting and weird

 | Jim Nash

Hawaiian legislators are finding the devil is in the details when it comes to mobile driving licenses (mDLs) while in Utah, they are learning that the technology is the devil.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to putter along with plans to get at least some Americans to put their license or state ID in its Wallet app.

Hawai’i House Bill 1686 would create a digital state ID pilot program, an idea that is gaining momentum in other states (and in numerous nations). In theory, mDLs would be less expensive for governments to manage and citizens to hold, update and replace.

Legislators in Hawai’i at the moment, however, are sussing out practical considerations like how automatic voter registration and other state programs can be tied into digital IDs.

Privacy concerns are real, of course. To date, no one has proved immune to breaches, and the biometric information on IDs, including driving licenses, is uniquely painful to lose control of.

But contrary to what seems like a popular misconception in some quarters of the United States, data on a state ID is not somehow only stored on the physical card.

Every bit of information on a paper or plastic driving license — starting with the license number — is by definition already on a state database. That does not change for mDLs.

Likewise, supermarket loyalty cards, insurance cards, vehicle titles, airline tickets, phone SIM cards, home warrantees, National Rifle Association cards, digital McDonald’s coupons, Netflix memberships, Home Depot receipts, game app registration forms, credit cards, phone numbers, email addresses, pickup truck loans, Telegram subscriptions and pet microchips are just the front end of electronic databases.

That might be news in Utah, where some state residents feel digitizing an ID will overturn democracy, lead to concentration camps, or even summon Satan. In reporting by The Salt Lake Tribune, it appears that a vocal segment of that state’s population sincerely hold one or more of those beliefs.

Some made their fears known during a state house committee meeting discussing the possibility of making a voluntary mDL project a permanent option.

Committee members ended the meeting without taking a vote.

At the same time, Apple is saying its customers will be able to add their driving license or other state ID to Wallet in “early 2022.” That might be April.

While not controversial the way state mDL programs can be, Apple has its doubters here. Interoperability questions abound, including: If Mark Zuckerberg tomorrow announced a Facebook mDL (no announcement is necessarily anticipated), would states adopting it need to follow each company’s standards and protocols?

That said, no less than the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is testing 122 credential authenticators to be ready for digital IDs.

The editors at MacRumors are all over developments here, including pawing through the second iOS 15.4 code line by line for clues about the feature.