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Security, Screening Key to Delaware's Mobile Driver's License Pilot

Delaware is the latest state to pilot a mobile driver's license for residents, partnering with IDEMIA, which provides its current physical drivers' licenses.

The state of Delaware, which launched its Real ID program nearly a decade ago, is strengthening one of residents’ most frequently used forms of identification with a new mobile driver’s license (mDL) pilot that includes a series of advanced security and privacy features.

Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan demonstrated the technology on March 13 during a public event at the Delaware Public Archives. In interviews with Government Technology, she and Division of Motor Vehicles Director Scott Vien said the six-month pilot, a partnership with Paris-based IDEMIA, is distinguished from other efforts nationwide by an extra security layer and user customization.

The app, which IDEMIA provided to around 200 initial test subjects including residents and state employees, must be separately unlocked once a user accesses his or her smartphone — itself securable with a numerical code, or facial or fingerprint confirmation.

Similarly to other pilots — underway with IDEMIA in Alabama, Arizona and Iowa, which plans a deployment this year — participating Delawareans can screen their personal information based on the use case, displaying only the relevant details necessary in a particular situation.

Colorado, Idaho, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are also piloting their own mDL and digital driver’s license (DDL) projects.

Delaware officials declined to elaborate on every aspect of the venture’s protective design but said one particularly noteworthy security feature of their app has been compared to the titular hero of a phenomenally popular book and film series.

“One which we lovingly dub as the ‘Harry Potter’ effect because when you pull up your driver’s license, your facial image is a 3-D image and it moves. It rotates,” Cohan said.

The effect is aimed at creating an electronic document instantly recognizable as an mDL, and that displays the necessary information only, in a striking format, the state DMV director said.

“Really, the point of those two things are, showing the person who’s trying to read that credential that this isn’t just a picture of my license that I put on my phone. This is an app that interacts with the Division of Motor Vehicles,” Vien said.

Once the bearer or user moves past that 3-D likeness, he or she sees an image that, by design, is much like their existing driver’s license — a recognition that, as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ director of identity management observed last year, physical drivers' licenses will be with us for years to come.

“The reason we did that is, we don’t think you can easily go from a physical card that everybody’s used to touching and feeling for the last however many years, to an electronic credential that looks or ‘feels’ nothing like a license,” Vien said.

Cost to date has been relatively low, the officials said, noting that pilots cost less than scaled rollouts. Additionally, Vien said, a full deployment would likely be built on top of current infrastructure, as something of an addition to an already existing enrollment — which could help keep costs down.

Participation from test subjects, state agencies and commercial partners has been strong. More than 30 restaurants, bars, casinos and other businesses in the mid-Atlantic state have come on board to test the technology, and even those that may have encountered it somewhat on the fly — like the Transportation Security Administration and at least one pharmacy — have reviewed it favorably.

Vien and Cohan — both test subjects themselves — said they used the mDL at a pharmacy and an airport respectively, and officials at both locations responded positively. In the case of the TSA, however, Cohan said she was required to provide a secondary form of photo ID in addition to her mDL.

In an interview with GT, Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins said he, too, will be downloading the app and piloting the mDL. He called the agencies "trendsetters," and said: "They are taking the pain out of DMV."

Having Real ID in place may have enabled officials to ensure the two programs — the pilot and the ID project — would not conflict, Vien said. But Cohan said work remains to be done around acceptance, and urged officials considering piloting their own mDL or DDL programs to make education and outreach high priorities.

“The whole point of the pilot, you know, is to test the acceptance level,” Cohan said. The DMV director agreed.

“I think the time you want to spend working with the business community, your chambers of commerce, etc., the necessity of it can’t be overstated,” Vien said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.
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