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What you need to know about digital driving licenses

With the scope and pace of digitization around the world today, it seems only natural that the question of identity verification be tackled through digital solutions. One of the most exciting contenders for adoption is the driving license – perhaps the most commonly used ID proof today, both on and off the road.

Fresh news from the frontier came last week, with Google announcing its developments for the IdentityCredential API. The API is a mode for securely storing sensitive documents like ID cards on Android. IdentityCredential is developed to be integrated with the Google Wallet service that allows users to go cash and card free on the move. With the addition of this API, users will be able to prove their identity through their phone, without having to carry a physical ID proof such as the driving license.

What are Digital Driving Licenses and why do we need them?
As we move towards a wallet free lifestyle, the shortcomings of physical licensed become more and more relevant. They are more susceptible to wrongdoings like stealing, forgery and identity theft. That embarrassing photograph on your driving license might be a butt of jokes today, but it offers serious difficulties while it comes to verification and forgery. Moreover, physical driving licenses are rarely updated in their 30 year lifetime. The pain of going through the process of updating a license is an extremely cumbersome process, especially in the Indian context. Thirdly, when it comes to sharing of information, it’s always all or nothing for physical licenses. So if you are in a situation where you want to use your document to verify your age, but not disclose your address, you are helpless with the traditional format.

All this points to the fact that like everything else, licenses also need to evolve. The only other major development in license design tech came a decade and a half ago with the introduction of plastic licenses embedded with microchips. The chip can store user information like identity, driving history and traffic violations as data on the physical document. Although it makes your license kind of updateable, the technology still requires law enforcement to carry a separate device to read, verify and update the data. And it doesn’t allow you to update things like your photograph or your permanent address without going through the traditional route.

So what then is a true digital driving license? For one, it is not a scan or a photograph of your physical driving license. Neither is it a chip enabled plastic license. In the words of Rob Mikell, the director for business development at Idemia, a digital identity enabler that is providing the tech for more than 10 US states that are preparing to make the switch, a digital driving license is a”…digital, secure rendering of your driver’s license that is dynamically connected back to the system of record…”.

Digital driving licenses are digital documents in the sense that they are accessible, updatable databases that are protected by various means of security ranging from password protection to cryptographic. The two biggest advantages that digital driving have over the traditional ones are its ease and trustworthiness of verification and its dynamic connection to the database. Instead of lugging around another hardware device, law and order officials need only use their own smartphones to access, verify and update a licensee’s information. The user also gets more control over their information and how much of it they would like to share and how they would like to update it. By getting rid of the paperwork and red tape, digital licenses might just bring DMVs and RTOs out of the dark ages and into the light.

Who is adopting Digital Driving Licenses?
The governments around the world are listening. Prototypes and trial runs for digital driving licenses or DDLs have been operational since 2014 in many countries around the world. Finland, UK, Netherlands, Brazil and Kosovo are among the frontrunners in adopting digital driving licenses, and will witness a full deployment in 2019. Australia is onto some interesting stuff by developing a DDL system based on the blockchain technology to ensure trust and privacy of data, again up for mass adoption in 2019.

In the US, Iowa was the first state to have a IOS based pilot program for DDLs in 2015, soon followed by Arizona, Utah, Texas and Illinois among others. Companies like Idemia, Gemalto, Trafi, HiQ and Great Apes are at the forefront in providing the tech services for digital driving licenses, and we can expect a lot more once Google’s API is released.

India has introduced the Digilocker app in 2018 that allows you to store and present a digital copy of your driver’s license on your smartphone. Digilocker is not really a true digital driving license because it is not dynamically linked back to the RTO database. Rather, Digilocker is verified by and is linked back to the Aadhaar UID database. Nevertheless its a good first step into making the system comfortable with the handling of digital documents.

When can we expect Digital Driving Licenses?
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in adoption is standardisation. With a host of private companies developing the technology for different deployments, it’s necessary to have an across board standardisation of protocols related to digital driving licenses. The American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators Working Group is currently working on specification of DDL standards.

The other important question that companies are trying to solve is what happens when your phone gets switched off. Possible solutions include embedding the license information into the phone’s hardware, among other experimental approaches. Finally, user consent and privacy becomes the third important concern with digital driving licenses.

Digital driving licenses provide the possibility of highly secure, accessible and user-friendly way of identity verification. It is true that for the time being, they have to co-exist with physical licenses as secondary forms of ID, but the day is not far before they become the norm – on and off the road.



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