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New York Preps for Mobile Driver’s License Rollout

By the end of the year, New York is poised to join nine states and nearly 20 others that right now offer mobile driver's licenses to their residents. The project is currently in the development phase.

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(TNS) — By the end of the year, New York will join nine states and nearly 20 others that offer mobile driver's licenses to its residents.

Mark Schroeder, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, revealed during a budget hearing in February that his agency is developing mobile driver's licenses and plans to implement them later this year.

There was no other discussion about mobile driver's licenses at the hearing. A DMV spokesperson confirmed that mobile driver's licenses are in the development phase but that it's "too early in the process to talk about where or how it might be used."

Mobile driver's licenses, or mDLs, are digital forms of identification. Michael McCaskill, director of identity management for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, told The Citizen that his organization has been working on mdL-related projects since 2012. Those efforts contributed to the International Organization for Standardization's adoption of a standard for mDL specifications in 2021. That standard is now being used by states to implement the digital driver's licenses.

State case studies

The Citizen interviewed officials from two states, Maryland and Utah, to learn more about their implementation of mobile driver's licenses.

Ryan Williams, who is the information technology and quality assurance manager for the Utah Department of Safety's Driver License Division, said his state began exploring an mDL option in 2016. It was three years later, in 2019, that state lawmakers passed a bill that launched the process for creating mDLs.

For Utah, it was a quick timeline for implementation. A request for information was issued in 2020, followed by a request for proposals in 2021. Last year, the state completed its pilot program and advanced production of the mDL.

One advantage Utah had was that the mDL standard had been adopted so it could develop its digital ID based on those parameters. Once they were ready to deploy the technology, they opted for what Williams called an "ecosystem-based pilot." They included businesses in the pilot program so that users would have a place to test whether their mDLs worked.

Maryland took a similar approach, according to Christine Nizer, administrator of the state Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Administration. She said the state initiated a digital driver's license pilot program in 2017 with about 500 participants — department employees and their family members. During that process, they gathered feedback from businesses that require age verification, such as casinos and liquor stores.

The key difference between Maryland and Utah is how they implemented the mDLs. Maryland opted for a digital wallet-based solution — offering mDLs through Apple Wallet. While you must have an Apple device to add the mDL to your wallet, Nizer said more than 130,000 Maryland residents are current mobile ID users. The state is planning to offer its digital ID on Google Play.

Utah, which has about 14,000 mDL users, chose to partner with a third-party vendor to develop an app where the digital license is stored. The app is available on Apple's App Store and Google Play.

The options may be different, but both states say the sign-up process is easy. In Utah, users download the app and then scan the front and back of their physical driver's license. They must fill out a form and then complete a likeness detection that confirms they are the license holder. From beginning to end, Williams said users can finish getting their mDLs in two to three minutes.

To sign up for an mDL in Maryland, the process is the same. You must have your physical license and a likeness verification is performed to confirm it's your ID. That information is reviewed, Nizer said, and users will either be approved for the digital license or asked to submit additional verification. Once enrollment is completed, users can access the mDL in their Apple Wallet.


One concern raised about this fairly new technology is whether a user's privacy is protected.

As more states adopt mDLs, it is an issue that is being watched by Alexis Hancock, director of engineering at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that focuses on digital privacy and other matters.

One of her concerns based on early discussions about mDLs is the pressure users face to get a digital license even if they don't want one.

"We believe there's a right to paper always and there shouldn't be a case or a matter where it should be a problem to present a physical driver's license," Hancock said.

In Maryland and Utah, mDLs are optional. Drivers are still issued a physical license.

Hancock also worried about adding a driver's license to devices that already store huge amounts of information. That, she said, can increase the risk of harm in certain situations.

Proponents of mDLs believe they offer more privacy and security than physical licenses. McCaskill said mDLs put the user in charge of how much information is provided when they present a digital license.

"They can always back out of a transaction before they share data," he said. "Even though the devices are connected, they are always in control."

In Utah, Williams offered this slogan, "It's not what you show. It's what you share."

"That was one of our big keys," he said. "You're not showing a picture to anybody. You're sharing information digitally through an encrypted transaction."

The digital licenses are not replicas of the physical licenses. With mDLs, there are controls for users to deploy in certain situations, such as when they are purchasing alcohol and a cashier needs to confirm their age. Instead of showing their physical license with all of their information, the mDL allows them to show their photo and confirmation that they meet the age requirement. No other information is displayed.

McCaskill thinks mDLs are better than traditional licenses because of that feature.

"You're not giving them everything," he said. "You're giving them what you want them to have... What they're doing is implementing a solution that's better than their physical solution but the relying parties are able to trust it and accept it."

What's next?

It's one thing to have an mDL. It's another to be able to use it.

Utah addressed this early on by including businesses, such as banks and grocery stores, in its testing. Businesses have easy access to verifiers — like mDLs, the verifiers used to check digital licenses are available as an app.

Mobile driver's licenses can be used elsewhere. In Maryland and Utah, the states have partnered with the Transportation Security Administration to allow the use of mDLs at airport checkpoints.

McCaskill and his team at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators are working on a pilot program that would allow relying parties — businesses, government agencies and other entities that would need to verify an mDL — access to the public keys for each state's digital ID. AAMVA is compiling the list of public keys that would be available for relying parties.

Continuing education is important. With more states rolling out mDLs, there will be questions about security and how the digital IDs are used. But those tasked with overseeing the deployment of mDLs believe they are a good option for their constituents.

"We want our customers to have control of their own data," Nizer said. "(Mobile licenses) really provides that because you're only sharing the information that's necessary for that transaction... Controlling information in that way really puts the power back in the customer's hands."

© 2023 The Citizen, Auburn, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.