In the coming months a few States (IA, DE) will be releasing the first ever “Digitial Driver’s License”. As with most things, being able to keep a digital copy in your pocket is quite convenient. Surprisingly, with everyone becoming more security concious both the government officials requesting the Digital ID’s and the companies creating them are both putting our safety in the forefront of the project. There is only one flaw in their design: You have to give the police your phone!
Let’s say you are driving home from work and get pulled over for a burnt out tail light. The officer asks for your ID and Proof of Insurance. In this new digital age you’ve got both of them on your phone. Launch the Driver’s License app, enter your pin and hand your phone over to the officer. At that point the officer proceeds to go through your photos and spots one of your and your best friend who happens to look similar to a person of interest in a crime that happened the other day. The officer questions you and brings you in for questioning. Since you handed over your phone willingly, and unlocked the officer can do pretty much anything they want.
The problem with our judicial system is that it operates under the premise of “Ask for forgiveness later.” All actions performed by law officers must be within the rules of the law but in the moment it is up to them to interpret those rules. Thank goodness we have a checks and balance system that reviews their actions but unfortunately its only after the fact. As a society we have started to become more technically literate, but our judical system is still lagging behind. Hoping for a judge or prosecutor to understand the difference between “handing over a phone to show your ID” and “handing it over to allow for a search” is a scary scenario I hope to never be in.
“If you use a Digital ID show your phone to the officer but don’t hand it over.”
If you have committed no crime then they would have no reason to search you. But from the officer’s point of view, if you have nothing to hide then you should be fully willing to prove that fact. Saying you’re ok with the officer looking at the app but not giving them the phone could give them Probable Cause to search your phone, car and possibly even your person.
Searching your car would be a blatant violation of your rights so chances are you probably wouldn’t be asked. But saying no to handing over your phone when you’ve decided to use the digital ID might come off as you trying to hide something and could open the doors to a full on invasion of privacy.
What makes things even worse is the fact that this move is happening under the guise of “cost savings.” Rather than spending money on printing hundreds of of thousands of driver’s license, these states are giving away the digital versions for cheap/free while charging extra physical copies. It will actually cost you money to be protective of your personal information.
So before you get too excited about ditching your wallet you might want to think about what information you’re handing over to that copy when you hand a cop your phone.