In December 2014, The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that law enforcement officers conducting traffic stops, security officers at Iowa airports, and some liquor stores will begin accepting a digital driver’s license in lieu of the traditional plastic one.
The concept is simple: it’s a mobile app that displays all the same information as your traditional driver’s license (including a photo, full name, address, date of birth), as well as a scannable bar code that links directly to DOT databases. The app will be available to Iowa residents free of charge starting at some point in 2015, and is optional. According to DOT Director Paul Trombino, the app will be highly secure and require a PIN for verification.
Because the bar codes used in the secure mobile app would be scanned using hardware inside an officer’s police car, the driver’s license mobile app does raise some concerns about civil liberties infractions. The phone will have to be handed over to the law enforcement official for bar code scanning, during which time the officer may accidentally see information (texts, contacts, or photos) on the phone peripheral to the app. There are also potential pitfalls such as a dead battery, a lost device, or screen damage that would prevent bar code scanning. To address all of these concerns, the Iowa DOT is planning an extended testing period for the app during the early months of 2015.
The Iowa DOT is pushing the technological envelope, and may be the first state in the nation to accept electronic driver’s licenses; thus far, it has spent approximately $20,000 to develop the app. Iowa and at least 30 other states already allow motorists to show digital proof of insurance during a traffic stop.