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Iowa, Five Other States Will Try Digital Driver's License Projects in 2018

The state of Iowa will develop an app-based mobile driver's license for statewide deployment in 2018, as five other states expand use case explorations in their own pilots.

Digital and mobile driver’s license tests will move forward in six states in 2018 as government agencies and vendors continue to establish its viability and usefulness — if not its precise future role.

Chief among them is Iowa, which intends to debut mobile drivers' licenses (mDLs) and the technology to “read” them electronically next year. Developed in collaboration with private-sector provider IDEMIA, the mDLs will be available to iOS and Android users.

There and in five other states, officials hope encrypted, app-based drivers' licenses and remote reader technology will enhance safety for residents and law enforcement, achieve operational and cost efficiencies and ultimately spark widespread adoption.

Geoff Slagle, director of identity management at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said that while it’s his personal opinion that digital drivers' licenses (DDLs) and mDLs won't replace its plastic or paper counterpart for years, it’s very likely a dozen or more states will offer DDLs or mDLs within the next five years.

AAMVA, whose members include law enforcement agencies and departments of motor vehicles nationwide, has convened a working group to develop standards, as well as a committee to scrutinize driver’s license appearance.

Slagle acknowledged significant obstacles to adoption continue to exist, among them aversions to the technology and varying equipment levels among law enforcement nationwide. But he said the rise of DDLs and mDLs may be imminent because of their potential to reduce fraud, protect privacy and increase confidence that bearers are who they claim to be.


There’s a one-word distinction between mDLs and DDLs; and, well, it’s the word “mobile.”

Lowe said the state referred to its work as a DDL project too, initially.

“The only reason we shifted away from it was in some respects, ‘digital’ implied that what mattered was the image that appeared on the phone. When we shifted away from ‘digital,’ it shifted from saying ‘It’s all about the picture on the phone,’” Lowe said.

In other words: it’s all about the underlying electronic veracity of the mDL or DDL image — not its mere visual representation.


“It is not a question of whether or not this happens, it’s a question of when,” Slagle said, noting similar efforts are taking place in Europe, Asia and in the southern Africa development community.


So far, one midwestern state, Iowa, is leading the pack nationally following a 90-day mDL pilot in 2015 and 2016 of a solution developed by the company MorphoTrust USA. (A result of the merging of Oberthur Technologies and Safran Identity & Security, it was renamed IDEMIA earlier this month.)

After that pilot with about 100 Iowa Department of Transportation employees, the state worked with Gartner to develop an RFP seeking mobile licenses.

IDEMIA, which works with about 80 percent of U.S. DMVs on licensing programs, was one of three respondents to the RFP and prevailed following a protest. The project’s total cost estimate is $3.5 million, state officials said.

Jenny Openshaw, the company’s senior vice president of sales for North America identity and security efforts, said IDEMIA expects to sign contracts later this month or in early November.

“It is a big leap, and we do feel like it puts both Iowa and Idemia into the vanguard,” said Openshaw, who called it a “paradigm shift” and said she expects other states will watch Iowa’s results before initiating their own projects.

As with plastic licenses, which are primarily used in in non-law-enforcement situations, Openshaw said use cases for Iowa’s new app-based mDL will center on identification in “all the typical places” residents use their traditional driver’s license.

The mDL will use what Openshaw characterized as “high” levels of encryption, including facial recognition to access the app, and may be remotely revoked by the state’s DMV.

In law enforcement situations, police officers will be able to remotely transmit a request for information from a smartphone or laptop in their vehicle to the subject’s smartphone. Police officers and retail clerks alike will be able to verify the mDL in-app with no additional hardware needed.


If these digital driver’s license projects — and others reportedly in the works — highlight one fact, it’s that people use their licenses most frequently when outside their vehicles.

Two states, Alabama and Arizona, are partnering with IDEMIA on electronic ID (eID) projects to secure residents’ identities in other contexts besides getting behind the wheel.

The Alabama Department of Revenue announced a pilot in April, testing an eID to secure state tax returns — and offering priority processing to residents who try it out.

On their website, officials reminded visitors the eID is the “only online ID that ties back to the in-person proofing process your Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) conducts when you apply for a driver’s license or state ID.”

Arizona, Openshaw said, is working with Idemia to integrate an eID with its online portal, giving residents electronic access to vehicle title and ownership services as well as driver's license knowledge tests.

“The mobile driver’s license we see as being the digital identity you use for in-person use cases. But the EID allows you to take that same level of assurance of identity into the online world, and that’s in some ways — if you think about it — even more exciting,” she said.

Lowe, the Iowa DOT director, said he sees the long-term use case for mDLs and DDLs as a subset of “electronic identity overall,” and ultimately answering the question of whether eIDs are accomplished through something like an mDL or through the device binding a person to his or her record through biometrics could reveal additional uses and conveniences for the process.

The state imagines an eventual shift, he said, to where, regardless of whether or not someone has an mDL, if they have an app that lets authorities access an authentic, verifiable biometric, their identity could be established.

“I think that’s what the long-term trajectory looks like and I see mobile driver’s license and electronic identity really sort of meshing together,” Lowe said.

The mDLs should be available statewide sometime during 2018, possibly as soon as mid-year, though Iowa DOT Director Mark Lowe cautioned development is still needed. The state is changing its definition of what it means to have a driver’s license, he said, and that will require time to be accepted.

“But I think if we get to the point where if you see the adoption rate moving in the right direction, not only in terms of people using it but the people that they need to authenticate and verify their ID, you may see people starting to choose and say ‘No, I just want it on my phone,’” Lowe said.

For now, neither mDLs nor DDLs are mandatory and residents will retain their plastic licenses.


Four other jurisdictions — Colorado, Idaho, Maryland and Washington, D.C. — piloted smartphone-based DDL technology this summer from Amsterdam-based digital security company Gemalto. Here, test subjects included Colorado Department of Revenue and Office of Information Technology employees, as well as more than 400 Maryland DOT staffers and some family members.

Use cases included buying alcohol at a Baltimore Orioles game, purchasing lottery tickets, retail items and clearing federal Transportation Security Administration security at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Wyoming joined the pilot earlier this fall and should begin its Phase 1 trials in November in an effort to catch up to the other agencies so that all can complete Phase 2 use cases in 2018. The pilots' funding comes from $2 million from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and an investment from Gemalto.

Debbie Trojovsky, the Wyoming DOT’s program manager for driver services, said the state is familiar with Gemalto, which makes its plastic drivers' licenses and ID cards, and had wanted to join the pilot for some time.

The department is still discussing use cases, she said, and hasn't decided on any yet.

Taylor Rossetti, support services administrator for Wyoming DOT, said the state’s uniquely small population could help Gemalto hone in on DDL problem areas unique to rural states.

“It’s neat that we were asked to participate, especially being the least populous state in the nation. We like to be as progressive and involved in the stuff on the cutting edge as we can be,” Rossetti said.

Here, as with the IDEMIA solution, app-based technology focuses on allowing subjects to keep their cellphones while revealing only the needed information. A Maryland official said this spring that law enforcement officers could verify IDs in the field by handing subjects a card to be scanned.

Steve Purdy, Gemalto’s vice president of state government programs, said that determining the veracity of subjects’ identities and preserving their privacy was of high importance.

Phase 2 pilots next year will look at additional use cases sharing, perhaps, additional layers of driver’s license information to accomplish goals like renting a car or setting up a bank account.

Gemalto’s solution is “pretty mature,” Purdy said, but while he said he could see the DDL solution eventually replacing a plastic license, it’s unclear what will happen after Phase 2 of the pilot.

“But we have seen, not just in the ones participating in the pilot but in our conversations, there are other jurisdictions that are definitely interested in going into production with us. They definitely see it as a wave of the future,” Purdy said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, 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.