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Digital IDs Are Here, but Where Are They Used and Accepted?

While millions of Americans have opted to use mobile IDs that can be carried on a phone instead of physical identification in a wallet, many businesses and agencies, including law enforcement, don’t yet accept them. What needs to happen next?

Inside a car, above a gearshift, a person's hand holds a smartphone showing a mobile driver's license.
Millions of Americans have begun the process of ditching their wallets for digital IDs on their phones, but a looming question remains: Who is actually accepting them?

Public records requests placed by Government Technology reveal at least five million Americans have signed up for mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs) in the 11 states that have interoperable programs fully implemented. According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, at least a dozen other states, including California, are conducting pilots or are in the planning process of launching their own mDL programs.

However, most mDL users still need to carry their physical licenses, as the number of government agencies and businesses that are accepting them is limited.

“We’ve always known this was going to be a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. Nobody was going to build mDLs if there are no use cases, and nobody is going to download if there’s no use cases. But nobody’s going to make use cases unless there were mDLs to provision and customers willing to do it,” Eric Jorgensen, director of the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) with the Arizona Department of Transportation, told Government Technology. “Now’s the time to start building the rest of the use cases and moving forward. That said, we can’t force anybody to accept it.”


The question of who is actually accepting digital IDs is a complicated one. Some states, like Iowa, Colorado and Utah have created partnerships with businesses and government agencies ready to accept their mobile IDs, and have maps or directories that inform citizens where they can use their mDLs.

According to a list of partners in Colorado, the most significant adoption interest comes from businesses that serve or sell age-restricted products like liquor or cannabis. However, a small number of credit unions, security firms, real-estate companies, auto body shops and health-care organizations have also joined the partnership. Additionally, 16 law enforcement agencies in the state accept the digital IDs.

The process, however, can be somewhat murky. Other states, like Arizona and Delaware, don’t formally track businesses that accept digital IDs, similar to how they don’t track where physical ID cards are accepted. Therefore, officials aren't quite sure who exactly is accepting them as a valid form of identification.


In Arizona, the known mDL acceptors are the Transportation Security Administration, which accepts Arizona mDLs at 27 participating airports, and all Arizona MVD offices. Now, the state has developed a beta version of a verification app, which it believes will build more trust in the system.

“I think one of the fears people have with a lot of things that are new is the age verification for alcohol purchase,” said Jorgensen. “Nobody wants to lose their liquor license, so they’re very cautious about ‘How do I make sure that I do this in a way that won’t get me in trouble, that I meet all the regulations?’ Having a state-sponsored app to do the verification side I think helps lend credence to the whole ecosystem to say, ‘Here it is.’”

Jorgensen said the plan is to launch the Arizona verification app this year, sometime before or during the summer.

“I don’t particularly want to compete with the private sector for verifier apps. I’d love to be put out of business,” he said. “The reason we’re doing it is just so that there’s this level of credibility, to say if the state’s actually issuing this verifier app, you can download and use it for compliance.”

The app promises more privacy than a physical license, as it’s equipped with age flags that will alert the verifier that the person is over a certain age, rather than display the ID holder’s age, address and other information printed on a traditional license.

“At the end of the day, I think it makes for a better experience. It maintains the privacy that people expect,” said Jorgensen. “It’s actually privacy-enhancing over the card today, you share it and it gives everything. This is minimizing the amount of data that gets shared to what’s needed.”

Arizona isn’t the only state that’s built a separate app with state-sponsored ID verification technology. In 2021, Missouri’s Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control partnered with the state's Department of Transportation Highway Safety and Traffic Division to launch Show-Me ID, an app that can verify the authenticity of any physical copy of state-issued ID to prevent alcohol being sold to minors.

According to the Missouri Department of Public Safety, the app has since performed more than 2.1 million scans. In January 2024, it performed more than 31,000 scans — and 7.9 percent of those were flagged as potential fake IDs.


As many states are rolling out digital identification programs, Oklahoma officially decommissioned its OK Mobile ID App in February and is now reimagining a mobile ID component. The move came a few months after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found Service Oklahoma, the state agency tasked with operating the app, was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The DOJ found that the state’s now decommissioned Mobile ID App “imposed critical accessibility barriers for people with vision disabilities,” violating ADA by denying people with vision disabilities equal access and failing to ensure that communications with them are as effective as communications with others.

“Service Oklahoma is currently working through the state procurement process to implement a full replacement of the state’s driver's license system,” Britnee Joyner, senior public information officer at Service Oklahoma, told Government Technology via email. “This new system will better align Service Oklahoma’s business practices and technology, automate processes, and meet the demands of the driver's license system of record including a mobile ID component. We anticipate the new driver's license system to be implemented across the state within the next 12-18 months.”


According to Jorgensen, wide-scale private-sector acceptance of mDLs is on the horizon. He said that at a recent conference, he spoke with several large companies who are closely watching the evolution of digital IDs.

“I’ve heard several of them say, ‘Yes, this is now on our road map,’” he said. “So that’s fantastic. Nothing begets success like success. Seeing successful use with the TSA, seeing it start to flourish with age verification, it just helps snowball it, and I think pretty soon it will be moving much faster than we ever expected to be moving.”
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.