California has been quietly testing out a mobile driver license that could help speed travelers through airport security and also help protect users’ privacy when asked to verify their age for purchases.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles began a mobile driver license pilot in late May with the pool of pilot participants expanding in phases before a broader rollout in August. The DMV’s “mDL” pilot now is open to the public, with some 100,000 people already signed up, but the legislature limits the trial to 1.5 million.
The California mDL is currently accepted at Transportation Security Administration PreCheck lanes at 26 airports nationally including San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles.
“Fast and convenient, as with the boarding pass on the phone,” said Anita Gore, a DMV spokeswoman.
TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said the technology can be used at SJC’s Checkpoint A, SFO’s Terminal 3 and LAX’s Terminal 7.
“TSA is pleased to have California join six other states in offering the mDL option,” Dankers said.
The mobile driver license also can be used to buy age-restricted products like liquor, tobacco and electronic cigarettes or vape kits at some outlets near Sacramento.
“No need to provide your address if all they need to know is that you are who you say you are and that you are over 21,” Gore said.
Gore said the mobile driver license in the California DMV Wallet is secured through the use of biometrics and encryption and “meets the highest federal and international security standards.”
The mDL is an open-source app created by the DMV and uses the secure capabilities of a smartphone like biometrics or a pin code to tie it to the user’s device.
“This makes it harder for unauthorized individuals to access or steal the mDL, improving overall security,” Gore said.
California DMV’s digital credential strategy meets the same strict security requirements as the European Union’s Digital Identity Wallet.
California isn’t the only state to start experimenting with digital driver licenses. Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland and Utah have launched similar programs, according to the TSA.
Once the pilot is complete in a couple years, the DMV anticipates an expansion of mDL availability for Californians, Gore said.
So if you get the mobile driver license, can you leave your hard-copy driver license at home? Not quite. The TSA says travelers must present their physical ID if requested.
“The mDL does not replace a physical driver’s license but gives Californians another convenient option for identity verification and more control over how they share the information on their license,” Gore said. “Pilot participants still must carry their physical card, though acceptance and uses of the mDL will continue to evolve. The DMV is working with interested groups to encourage broad acceptance of the mDL.”