Eight US states are to begin offering a digital version of drivers’ licences via the Wallet app on Apple’s iPhone, the company has said.

Wallet allows users to store IDs, credit cards, loyalty cards and other items on an iPhone.

Apple announced the state drivers’ licence feature at its WWDC developer conference in June, along with other Wallet updates that allow the app to hold a digital version of a user’s house keys, hotel room keys and workplace ID.

The features are expected to arrive with the iOS 15 update, planned for release in the autumn.

Image credit: Apple

Airport screening

Arizona and Georgia are to be the first to offer the drivers’ licence feature, followed by Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah. Apple didn’t provide a specific timeline.

All of these states will also accept digital IDs from other states.

The first locations to begin accepting the digital IDs, however, will be airport security checkpoints operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Apple said.

TSA checkpoints will allow US users to present their state IDs digitally in order to board domestic flights.

Apple said the TSA procedure is carried out wirelessly and it is not necessary for users to unlock or even show their device.

“Users do not need to unlock, show, or hand over their device to present their ID,” Apple said.

Image credit: Apple

Security

After tapping the device at a TSA terminal, the iPhone will display the information requested by the TSA, after which the user will be required to approve the request via Face ID or fingerprint.

Only the requested information will be transmitted in encrypted form to the TSA, and neither Apple nor state authorities will know when or where ID was presented.

TSA administrator David Pekoske said the system would “enable a more seamless airport security screening experience”.

It isn’t clear how the system would be used in other situations, such as traffic stops. The states offering digital drivers’ licences currently also require users to carry the physical version with them.

Privacy concerns

To set up the licence, users will first scan their physical licence using the iPhone, then take a photo of themselves and complete a series of facial and head movements as a security measure. The information is transmitted to the issuing state authority, which must verify it for the digital licence to become active.

But civil liberties groups remain wary of digital IDs, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation saying they could be “a big step towards national identification, in which every time we walk through a door or buy coffee, a record of the event is collected and aggregated”.

The EFF said the digital licences could also “make demands for ID more frequent in American life”.

“They may also lead to the routine use of automated or ‘robot’ ID checks carried out not by humans but by machines, causing such demands to proliferate even more,” the group said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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