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By the end of this summer, California could introduce its digital ID to a limited number of residents who will be able to use them in airports and convenience stores to prove age and identity.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised in his January state budget presentation a “next level” digital identification system allowing residents to access their drivers’ licenses on their smartphones. “We're going to do it like no other state has done it,” he said at the time.
And the advent of a digital ID, something that has swept through several states already, appears close for a portion of residents of the Golden State. Ajay Gupta, chief digital transformation officer at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, said the digital ID should be available to up to 170,000 people in the late summer as part of the initial pilot.
Legislation would be required to increase the number of residents eligible for the digital ID beyond that initial 170,000, Gupta added, as it is still considered to be a pilot project. Initially, the digital ID will be available for use at some airports. It also will be accepted in convenience stores to allow people to verify their age when buying certain products, with more use cases to follow, including online ones.
“It's important to invest in the easy use cases and decide which ones are the most attractive for consumers,” said Ajay Amlani, senior vice president and head of Americas at face biometric verification and authentication technology company iProov. Using your physical driver's license today “is not that hard. You have to take it out of your wallet and show it. But having that capability to have a mobile driver's license can open new use cases.”
Educating residents and businesses will be crucial in the rollout of digital identification. Gupta said the vendor that is working with the state’s convenience stores to install the ID scanners also will train businesses on how to accept them. He declined to name the vendor involved.
Digital IDs, which are recognized in a growing number of states, must also be interoperable so out-of-state licenses can be accepted, something Gupta said will be driven by standardizing credentials.
California and other states have leaned on the World Wide Web Consortium’s verifiable credentials standards, an open-source model that W3C says provides “a mechanism to express these sorts of credentials on the Web in a way that is cryptographically secure, privacy respecting, and machine-verifiable.”
Those interoperability standards also help ensure consumers’ privacy, as credentials are encrypted and do not leave a “digital trail” when used, something Gupta said California and other DMVs are keen to avoid.
“From a responsibility standpoint, it's extremely critical to have the right standards and right privacy protections for our consumers,” he said. “There's also responsibility around information use, how we create our digital credentials. It's extremely critical that it's paramount on privacy.”
It also will be imperative for state officials to ensure that digital IDs work with a variety of devices and software versions to ensure that as many smartphone users as possible can access them. Smartphone ownership, which the Pew Research Center estimated at 85% in 2021, is now close to ubiquitous especially among adults, but the age and condition of some devices can vary.
“You don't want to force people to get the latest device, the most expensive device, to be able to operate here,” Amlani said. “You want to be able to be flexible.”
As more people choose not to carry a physical wallet, Amlani said digital wallets will grow in importance and use. Especially for younger generations, he said the idea of carrying a wallet full of ID cards is “beyond them,” and that there is a “certain expectation” that doing everything via smartphone will become standard.