The Empty Pocket Lifestyle is Coming
Are you carrying less plastic or paper these days? More and more, all you need when you step out the door is your handheld personal device. That’s increasingly true with driver’s licenses even, which I learned recently.
Earlier this year, thanks to COVID, mail issues, and my wife’s broken ankle that resigned her to crutches, renewing her Colorado Driver License became a significant challenge. “Auto-renew” was anything but automatic.
During the process, though, I learned that several states have been testing the technology and engaging in pilot programs related to digital driver’s licenses (DDLs) over the past few years. In fact, my home state, Colorado, has adopted a digital driver’s license option, valid for in-state, non-law enforcement-related purposes.
Steps Toward National Standardization
The process is tied in with the transition to Real IDs – the TSA-driven system that will require air travelers to use state-issued (plastic) driver’s licenses that are digitally produced, including a digital photo. If your driver’s license card has a star in the upper right corner, you’re all set.
The U.S. Congress took things a step further this past December with the annual Appropriations bill, which includes language that allows states to consider DDLs as official state government identification documents. It also confirms that these compliant state DDLs will be sufficient for TSA purposes.
Since all the information on your driver’s license is being digitally stored by your state motor vehicles administration, it’s not much of a technological leap to securely link that information to a digital driver’s license you can pull up on your iPhone or Apple Watch.
What is a technological leap, though, as well as a leap of faith for some of us, is how to keep that vital information secure when it’s stored electronically on their device. After all, other than a passport – which few of us carry on a daily basis – driver’s licenses are the primary proof of our identity to verify who we are.
The answer is biometric recognition – facial, iris, and fingerprint recognition to name just three. Biometric recognition isn’t 100% foolproof, but it’s based on the fact that human beings are physically distinctive with non-duplicated physical characteristics. It’s already used in lieu of usernames and passwords for many IT functions, and there’s no reason DDLs can’t be added to the mix.
Welcome to a world in which we can keep our pockets, pocketbooks, purses, and wallets free of valuable, stealable verifiers of our personal identity and links to our assets.
We’re well down that road. I appreciate laptops and mobile apps that allow a user to log in with fingerprint matching or facial recognition. And it’s always reassuring when the app with facial recognition won’t open if I happen to look away from the screen or sneeze at just the wrong time.
Our personal devices are increasingly turning into digital wallets or pocketbooks, with programs and apps related to everything from credit cards to car keys. And if we can make driver’s licenses digital, there shouldn’t be any stopping us. There’s really no limit on digitizing the membership cards, payment accounts, identity cards, insurance cards, and all the other 3-1/2 X 2-1/4-inch cards stretching our wallets and pocketbooks at the seams.
Entrusting those random and valuable accounts that contain so much personal and financial information to a single device may seem counterintuitive. So, what about security. I smile when I hear people point out – “What about if I lose my phone?” It happens. And we also lose wallets and leave credit cards behind in restaurants … and these are not “locked” in any way.
So, how is this a personal security advancement? First of all, if the phone or other device can only be turned on via biometric access, that would go a long way to keeping its content safe while users close or change access to critical accounts.
Second, I’d like to see these devices come with a service where if I were to lose the device, I can contact the manufacturer and have it turned off with a remote “kill switch.” Even better, maybe they can also cause the device to self-destruct or emit a high-pitched squeal if someone tries to repeatedly access it after I’ve reported it stolen!
Another security option that’s available already is a special app-based wallet that contains all the personal identification information you might need in the course of a trip – passport, driver’s license, health records, and so on. You can set time and access limits to the app – for the duration of the trip and with accessibility to, for example, an airline or hotel so they could access only the information they need when they need it.
What if our biometrics change? Will our devices and apps stop recognizing us? Again, that’s possible, but that’s probably a good thing, similar to being forced to reset your password every six months on your laptop security or within your online banking program. In the case of biometric recognition, though, the need would be far less often than that.
Wallets and pocketbooks might be hard habits to break, but that hasn’t stopped us from adapting to new and better, future-focused solutions in the past. I predict we’ll quickly adjust to this convenient and more secure approach to managing the personal information we carry with us.