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Thanks to the growing adoption of smartphone wallets and mobile payment technologies like Apple Pay and Google Pay, Colorado officials expect the state’s mDL to gain wide acceptance.
Colorado expects the adoption of its new mobile ID to accelerate, now that it can be stored in the Apple Wallet—and soon Google Wallet—on residents’ smartphones.
The Colorado Mobile ID is a digital extension of a resident’s driver’s license, according to Michael Arrington, chief strategy officer at the Department of Revenue, which houses the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles.
The state already offers the Colorado Digital ID, which is an electronic version of a physical driver’s license that holders have been able to access through the myColorado app since late 2019. Users—about 1 million of the state’s 5.9 million residents—can also store their COVID-19 vaccination records and Colorado Parks and Wildlife digital licenses on the app. It provides verified ID for in-state use only.
But with the new Colorado Mobile ID, residents can control what data points they share when they are prompted as part of the digital request from the relying party and it is part of a standard being introduced across the United States and internationally.
“For example,” Arrington said, “if I’m going to a restaurant and they’re doing their due diligence and want to make sure I’m over 21, they don’t need to know my name, address or other data points.”
In other words, when a business or government entity asks for authenticating information from a Mobile ID holder, residents will hold their phone up to a reader, a device that captures only the specific data sought. That way, smartphone users can present the requested data without having to expose all their information, as they would with a physical ID card.
The evolution of mobile driver’s licenses, or mDLs, in Colorado reflects the state’s approach to reaching users where they are. “mDL is really future-proofing how we handle identity,” Arrington said.
The approach also serves as a model for implementing mDLs in other states. Arrington said the state got an early start with digital IDs because officials decided that maturing state identity tools was an important way to maximize pandemic stimulus funds. “That laid the foundation for us to start introducing mDLs,” Arrington said.
As other states begin establishing mDLs, he recommends that they consider how they want to approach the marketplace. For Colorado, the goal was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. That meant taking advantage of the existing marketplace that Apple, Google and their app stores offer.
“I think public-private partnerships like this with the big players, Google and Apple, are so important, because they’re able to mature things in a way that the state on [its] own can’t do,” he said.
As the ecosystem of retailers that have installed readers to take advantage of the advanced features the Colorado Mobile IDs offer expands, Arrington said he expects mDLs to likewise evolve.
“Imagine a world where … through a responsive design website, you no longer need your username and password because you’re going to be able to biometrically validate and transmit your credentials over the internet,” Arrington said. It’s exciting to “think of the cascading implications and benefits around convenience and security for our citizens,” he added.
Ultimately, mDLs will work like Apple Pay and Google Pay, which are seeing an increase in usage, added Daniel Carr, communications director at the Department of Revenue. “Just from 2021 to 2022, [mobile payment] went from 38%, adoption to 49% adoption in that single year,” Carr said. mDL rollout may be faster because of the groundwork laid by mobile pay, he added.
But mDLs may not be popular with everyone, especially those concerned that the state is storing information and tracking drivers. But that idea is “100% opposite of what we’re trying to do,” Arrington said. “This is about privacy and security.”
The data is stored only within the smartphone and is accessible only with biometric confirmation by the phone’s owner. If someone else gets hold of the device and the owner’s PIN, they still won’t be able to access the credential, Arrington said. And if the device is stolen or misplaced, owners can use an app such as Apple’s Find My to disable it.
“Thirdly, as a state, we have tools to support the … suspension of your mDL” if the phone is lost or stolen, he said. Residents can make a quick phone call to (303) 205-5600 or interact through the website at mydmv.colorado.gov to have the license put on hold.
The Department of Revenue currently enables mDLs on two devices but could increase that number based on user feedback. And when users get a new smartphone, they will need to bind their mDL to it, just as they would with credit cards.
The department has not launched any formal advertising or education about its mDL yet, Arrington said.
“Because of the hardware reliance and the standards also still becoming available … we don’t want to get too far out in the marketplace and unintentionally cause confusion,” he said. “We have an intentional adoption campaign that we’re going to start pushing over the next couple of months, so that’ll be our first deliberate effort to drive awareness and understanding.”
Colorado is the third state to go live with mDLs in Apple Wallet after Arizona in March 2022 and Maryland in May 2022. Georgia joined them in May, although Apple announced in 2021 that eight states had signed on. In June, Maryland became the first state to offer digital licenses in both Google and Apple wallets.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is coordinating the national mDL effort. It issued implementation guidelines in September 2021. On a map of mDL progress, AAMVA shows eight states—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah—as having interoperable implementation. Another six have it in progress, and 11 are conducting legislative and/or study activity.
In Colorado, mDLs will replace the Colorado Digital ID, but whether they’ll drive out physical cards, Arrington said he thinks so, but maybe not within his lifetime.
“Almost all [citizens who] have a driver’s license or ID will have it available,” Arrington said of the mDL. “For us, it’s just another medium that we can now offer that is secure, and we’ll see how our citizens in the marketplace use it.”
Editor's note: This article was changed Sept. 5 to clarify contact information for Colorado DMV and Sept. 11 to clarify details about how the Colorado Mobile ID works.