Texas Could Be Next State to Get Digital IDs and Licenses

State legislators in Texas will decide in their next legislative session whether to move forward with a Department of Public Safety pilot project to test digital versions of driver's licenses and identification cards.

by Johnathan Silver, Austin American-Statesman / November 26, 2018

(TNS) Texas could move one step closer to issuing digital driver's licenses, if lawmakers approve a pilot program during the upcoming legislative session.

House Bill 181, by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to try out a program for issuing digital identification. In doing so, the bill states, the department would have to make necessary upgrades and acquire a mobile application for digital IDs and driver's licenses. The bill also states that DPS can enter into a contract with a third party to establish the program if the arrangement "is at no cost to the department."

That trial run would lay the groundwork for an alternative form of identification, not a replacement for physical, plastic cards.

"This bill is an important part of a process towards a more modern and more safe Texas," Canales told the American-Statesman. "Texas is falling behind with current and future technology, while other states are staying on pace with the technology movement. I want all Texans to have the convenience of displaying their identification with their smartphones. More and more people are using their smartphone to start their car, control their air conditioners, buy goods at stores."

Louisiana is the only state that makes digital licenses available to drivers, while more than a dozen other states "either have developed a program, run a pilot or are studying the possibility," according to Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on state policy trends.

In 2015, legislation by Canales required the Department of Public Safety to study the feasibility of digital IDs and licenses. In a 2016 report, the department outlined the benefits and obstacles to having a digital identification program.

Benefits could include:

• Reducing the demand for physical cards.

• Providing a convenient and secure foundation for customers to prove their identity online and reduce fraud.

• Receiving real-time notifications, such as upcoming expiration dates and license status.

• Renewing and updating licenses and IDs remotely, allowing changes to be reflected immediately.

• Electronically reinstating driving privileges or initiating "driver license-related enforcement actions."

• Allowing people to manage state-issued credentials like their license to carry a firearm.

Obstacles could include:

• Digital licenses need to meet "real" ID requirements at the federal level.

• The Transportation Security Administration does not currently recognize such identification at security checkpoints.

• The challenge of such identification being recognized outside of the state.

The department's report also identified risks to personal information: illegal searches of electronic devices during traffic stops, and the threat of data being vulnerable in unprotected networks when "in motion" and "at rest."

Software developers proposed solutions that include locking phones when the application is open to prevent officers from looking at other content and allowing wireless transmissions of digital IDs or licenses "between a private or government application and the consumer's digital application," eliminating the need for officers to handle phones at all, the department reported.

"With the advances in wireless communication and encryption technologies, the digital (driver's license or ID) application has the potential to be more secure than the physical version," the department said in the study. "The digital application would allow the (driver's license or ID) to be more than a static image or digital reproduction and provide advanced identity authentication, real-time data validation and enhanced security features, such as digital watermarks, to make counterfeiting and fraud increasingly difficult."

The department recommended further studying the issue.

"To support these efforts and address other challenges yet to be uncovered, well-formed state pilots and collaboration with other jurisdictions and industry will be required," the department said in its report. "However, even if the above obstacles are able to be removed, states will have to continue to issue physical licenses into the foreseeable future due to consumer preference and access to mobile devices."

Canales filed a pilot program bill in 2017 that made it out of committee and onto the general state calendar in the House, but the session ended before the body took further action. Canales said he hadn't received negative reaction to the proposal.

"Technology continues to rapidly advance," he said. "I think more and more people realize that digital IDs will happen and it is just a matter of time. I am seeking to ensure that Texas stays up to date and ready to go when we implement digital IDs."

The Department of Public Safety is currently receiving bids for the contract to print all driver's licenses, Canales said.

"They are asking each of the companies that bids to let them know if they have a digital component," he said. "Sometimes, good ideas take a couple sessions to get them through the process."

©2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.