A Move to Allow Digital Driver’s Licenses as a Legal Form of ID

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Under a Colorado program, bars and other businesses will have the choice of whether or not to accept them. Similar initiatives are taking shape in other states.

Colorado is moving ahead with a program to allow people to create a digital version of their driver’s license or state identification card using a cellphone app.

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order this week saying that the electronic IDs may be accepted as a legal form of identification. Colorado is one of a number of states that have been exploring digital driver’s licenses in recent years.

Oklahoma is proceeding with a similar mobile ID program, and Louisiana last year launched a digital driver's license initiative known as LA Wallet, which offers an electronic credential that is legal to use when driving under a state law approved there in 2016.

“We can see the day when Coloradans won’t have to carry a wallet for day-to-day activities,” Polis said. “That day still may be a year or two off to totally ditch the wallet, but this is a very important first step.”

He later added that the state has no plans in the foreseeable future to eliminate traditional driver’s licenses and identification cards as an option for residents. 

Polis’ administration is advising state agencies other than law enforcement to accept the electronic IDs beginning on Dec. 1 and is urging private companies to accept them as well. But it will be at the discretion of bars and other businesses to decide whether to do so.

Coloradans who create the IDs will still need to carry a physical form of identification if they’re driving or flying. That’s because police agencies are still laying the groundwork to deal with the digital IDs, and federal agencies currently do not accept them.

Polis said during a press conference that the state’s goal is for police to begin accepting the digital driver’s licenses as a valid form of ID by the end of 2020 and that his administration is encouraging local law enforcement to do the same as soon as possible.

People will be able to use the digital ID even if they don’t have cell phone or internet service.

Colorado, along with Idaho, Maryland, Wyoming and Washington, D.C., was involved in a digital ID pilot program that was backed by a $2 million grant the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology awarded to the tech company Gemalto, Inc.

Lawmakers in Maryland earlier this year approved legislation that authorizes the state’s motor vehicle administration to issue electronic ID credentials in addition to, but not instead of, a physical license or identification card. The law also outlines valid uses for digital IDs.

Iowa has also tested digital driver’s licenses under a pilot program that began in 2014. The state had planed to roll out a broader initiative this year, but that has now likely been pushed back until at least 2020. 

Lawmakers in other states—Arizona, Illinois and Utah among them—have in recent years authorized studies of developing digital IDs.

The idea of shifting toward the technology has stirred concerns among some experts over privacy issues and the role private companies will play, as Route Fifty has previously reported

Polis, a Democrat who was elected in 2018 after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, grew wealthy through a number of tech-related business ventures. He and others argue that digital licenses could actually be more secure than traditional IDs. 

“The security’s there,” Polis said.

“In many ways it is more secure than this,” he added, gesturing with his wallet, “because this easily gets lost or stolen.”

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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