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Iowa passes the nation's first digital driver's license law

Iowa’s digital driver’s license will work at traffic stops and Iowan airports. 

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    This is a proposed sample of the upcoming Iowa digital driver's license.
    Iowa Department of Transportation
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Iowa transportation officials released a plan last week to offer digital driver’s licenses to Iowans.

According to The Des Moines Register, the free mobile app will be accepted during police traffic stops and at security checkpoints in Iowa’s airports. While the app probably won’t be available until 2016, Iowa would be the first state to offer its people a digital option for their state ID. The state will continue to issue traditional plastic driver’s licenses for those who want them.

The possibility of widespread adoption for digital driver’s licenses has some people excited. Following the release of the iPhone payment system Apple Pay in October, a digital license could be another step toward a wallet-less future.

Others are not yet sold on the idea, especially because of possible privacy violations during traffic stops. In order to verify the digital license, the police officer will need to take the phone and scan the license barcode from hardware located in the police car. Private text messages or e-mails could appear across the top of the phone while the police officer is looking at the license.

Iowa’s Department of Transportation (DOT) is aware of people’s privacy concerns and is investigating ways to assuage fears, according to CNET. One possible option is to lock the rest of the phone while the driver’s license app is open.

In the past three years, more than 30 US states have begun accepting digital proof of insurance at traffic stops. It’s a big change from 2011 when no states allowed it. Insurance companies such as Geico and Esurance now have their own apps to make it simple for drivers to show police officers their proof of insurance.

Identification in the digital world has also appeared in Europe. ID cards in some European countries offer increased security in electronic environments. For example, Estonia’s plastic ID cards work for both in-person and digital transactions. The cards provide proof of identification for Estonia’s e-services, such as logging into bank accounts, providing digital signatures, and even voting via the Internet.

Passports for countries around the world, while still a paper document, have a digital element. Many now come with an electronic chip containing personal data printed in the passport. The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization reports that 100 countries are currently issuing chip-based passports, and most countries have e-passport readers.

As Iowa’s DOT moves forward with its digital driver’s license app, it plans to incorporate an extended testing phase before releasing the app to the state. Depending on the app’s success, other states may follow suit.

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