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CA Ready to Roll Out Digital IDs in 'Matter of Months', Critics Warn of 'Privacy Nightmare'

01-13-2023
Drivers License App

The state of California has announced plans to allow residents to test out digital identifications and state ID cards within "a matter of months."

Gov. Gavin Newsom says California is ready to roll out digital IDs, which would allow people to have their driver's license information and identification available at their fingertips.

The California DMV began testing mobile driver's licenses and ID cards with a limited number of people in late 2021, The Los Angeles Times reports.

"Know this, in just a matter of months, we're finally going to have those digital wallets, where you can get your driver's license on a digital wallet. And we're going to do it like no other state has done it. There are only a few that have. But there's issues. Ours, we think it'll be next level. We're so excited about what the DMV can look like," Newsom said Monday during the state's budget meeting. 

Apple is being eyed as one of the main platforms to support this new technology. The company has already incorporated a new digital ID feature in its Wallet app. Currently, the app allows people to store their driver's license information and other personal information.

Digital driver's licenses and IDs in the Wallet app are used in states like Arizona, Maryland, and Colorado.

And while other states are open to allowing residents to store their personal information on the Wallet app, critics believe a poorly designed system would threaten privacy.

"[Privacy advocates] are worried that companies and governments will find a way to use digital licenses to track your movements and learn something about your personal life," writes Jon Healy with the L.A. Times. 

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Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the liberal ACLU, says it could seriously undermine people's privacy.

"A poorly constructed digital identity system could be a privacy nightmare," he wrote. "Such a system could make it so easy to ask for people's IDs that these demands proliferate until we're automatically sharing our ID at every turn — including online."

He added, "Without good privacy protections, digital IDs could also enable the centralized tracking of every place (again, online and off) that we present our ID. It is possible to build in technological privacy protections to ensure that can't be done, and there's no reason not to include them. No system is acceptable unless it does."

For now, California's legislation reportedly does specify that digital IDs are optional and that digital ID users cannot be forced to hand over a smartphone to verify their ID. Also, using a device for an ID does not provide consent for law enforcement to search a smartphone.

Although there is not much more detail on California's plan, developers have made it clear that any mobile app that has this feature will be limited to only storing the information that is on the physical driver's license or ID card.

"Digital is not always better — especially when systems are exclusively digital," wrote Stanley. "There's a reason that most jurisdictions have spurned electronic voting in favor of paper ballots, for example." 

 

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