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Utah's New Mobile ID Pilot Might Be the Future of Digital ID

Officials involved in the project say it's the first in the U.S. to use a new international standard meant to make mobile IDs interoperable. So in the next year, Utah's pilot project just might show everyone the future.

One person using a cell phone to verify a mobile driver's license on another cell phone in Utah
GET Group North America
Utah’s new mobile driver’s license pilot project just might be the future of digital IDs in the U.S.

The state’s newly announced program is the first in the U.S., officials say, to fully comply with a new standard for digital IDs currently going through the adoption process at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Should that standard become widely adopted, like standards that govern the creation of physical driver’s licenses, it would create an ecosystem where mobile IDs share similar features no matter where they’re issued, and can therefore be easily accepted almost anywhere.

In other words, Utah is trying out a version of mDLs that it hopes will become commonplace across the U.S. and the world. The state Driver License Division (DLD) is starting up the project in response to a bill the Legislature passed last year requiring it to offer digital IDs to the public by the beginning of 2022.

“There was nothing by statute or code that required the ISO standard,” said Chris Caras, director of the Utah DLD. “The division chose to make that a requirement for the product because what we’re concerned about is ultimately the interoperability and acceptance of that document, and that ISO standard is really what we see will facilitate that level of acceptance and credibility in circulation.”

The state’s project will use an app from GET Group North America, in partnership with Scytáles, which recently passed a third-party verification that the software complies with the ISO standard.

The standards are designed to improve the security of IDs, as well as address security concerns and make fakery harder. But perhaps their biggest advantage is that they serve as a means of ensuring that a digital ID will be useful regardless of which company provides it, which state issues it or the verification technology a bar bouncer uses to read it.

Scott Vien, business development director of GET Group, thinks the U.S. will gravitate toward the standards over time until it becomes common sense.

“I don’t know that there’s any U.S. jurisdiction that isn’t engaged in this conversation,” he said.

The standards provide some advantages over physical IDs, aside from the fundamental difference that they’re digital. One is that they give the ID holder more power to determine what information they’re giving out. When a person hands their driver’s license to another person, they’re giving them all the information on the card. But with a mobile ID, a person can choose to show only the information relevant to the situation.

Mobile IDs also shift some of the responsibility for determining an ID’s legitimacy from the person checking it to the technology they’re using. Rather than a person needing to memorize the security features to look for on any given state’s cards, verification technology can check it automatically.

That also solves a problem with fake IDs today — they can often fool barcode scanners.

“With those barcodes on the back, there is no way to validate that the data came directly from the issuer,” said David Kelts, product development director of GET Group. “So in fact, good fake IDs have a barcode on the back that is scannable. In this case, using the ISO standard adds that extra layer of check that says, ‘Is this an official ID document?’”

Utah’s pilot project will begin with 100 users to start off with — mostly employees of the state — before expanding to 1,000 people in the summer and 10,000 in late summer or in the fall. It should be open to everyone by Jan. 1, 2022.

The pilot will serve to help the state and the companies involved work out any kinks, but it also serves the purpose of easing the broader ecosystem into mobile IDs. After all, establishments that check IDs regularly will need to learn how to verify them — that could mean adjusting existing point-of-sale systems, buying handheld devices or downloading apps for employees to use.

One huge use of IDs that will have to get used to mobile IDs: The police. Since the DLD is in the Utah Department of Public Safety, Caras said he started conversations early about how law enforcement will approach the new IDs. Not all of the questions have answers yet, but the pilot period will give them time to figure it out.

“We’re trying to look at options that don’t require huge expenses on hardware or things of that nature, knowing that law enforcement doesn’t have the ability to really fund those types of things,” he said.

Utah is far from the first state to try out mobile IDs. But similar projects in the future might start looking a lot like Utah’s as the ISO standard gains traction.

“Five years ago I didn’t have any credit cards on my phone … and now I’m using it all the time,” said Alex Kambanis, president and managing director of GET Group. “In fact, the only thing that I’m missing is my driver’s license for me to be able to walk out of my house and not take my wallet. So we believe that this is going to be, in four or five years — whatever — the standard.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.