“Digital Driver’s License and Registration Please”: Are Mobile Licenses Secure?

As more states roll out digital driver’s licenses, security and privacy concerns have cropped up. Find out how secure your personal information is with a digital driver’s license.
Andrew Adams, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Aug 18, 2022

Technology continues to add conveniences to our everyday lives, and your driver’s license may be the latest thing to go digital. Now you can have your ID card, credit cards, and more on your phone.

Moving to a digital wallet offers many conveniences, but it's also important to know the risks and mitigate any security issues. Protecting your online identity, even with a government-issued ID, is essential.

So how can you be confident that your identity is secure with a digital driver’s license? Let’s look at how Apple and others are going about securing your information.

In this article
What is a digital driver’s license?
How does a digital driver's license work?
How do you add a digital license to Apple Wallet or Google Wallet?
Are digital driver’s licenses secure?
Is it legal to use a digital driver’s license?
How does a digital driver’s license work with REAL ID and TSA?
What are the benefits of a digital driver's license?
Which states let you use a digital driver’s license?
Digital driver’s license FAQs
Bottom line

What is a digital driver’s license?

A digital driver’s license is a new convenience, but what does it mean for your day-to-day life? A digital driver’s license is similar to Apple Pay or Google Pay, where your driver’s license is saved in your phone’s wallet, like a credit card.

The digital driver’s license isn’t just a photo of your license on your phone. The technology verifies your license with your state’s government along with your identity.

But first, to get a digital version of your driver's license, your state needs to opt-in to have a digital driver’s license. Apple and Google have already implemented the technology in their digital wallets, so once your state gives the OK, you can add your digital driver’s license.

Arizona is the first state to roll out a digital ID through Apple Wallet. However, Arizona’s digital driver’s license cannot be used for age verification for purchasing alcohol or other products.

In Utah, mobile driver’s licenses are available through a pilot program, and the state is allowing digital driver’s licenses to be used in state liquor stores, some grocery stores, and more.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are both working on policies to guide the use of digital licenses. The TSA is testing a digital license program in select airports around the country, including:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Gulfport Biloxi International Airport (GPT)
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

You’ll still need your physical ID accessible when using a digital license for TSA security checkpoints.

How does a digital driver's license work?

A digital license may work differently depending on which U.S. state you're located in. For example, to set up Utah's mobile driver's license you'd follow these steps:

  1. Download the Utah mobile driver's license app
  2. Scan a 2D barcode on the back of your physical state ID
  3. Take a selfie

To complete the authentication of your ID, the app checks if the selfie matches the photo you previously took at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It also checks whether the data provided by the barcode you scanned matches the credentials on file in the Driver License database. 

If both your selfie and scanned credentials are a match, your digital license is activated on your phone.

How do you add a digital license to Apple Wallet or Google Wallet?

Adding your digital driver’s license to your Apple or Google wallet is simple once your state has opted in. You’ll go to the Wallet app and select the + button for Apple devices.

From there, you’ll pick your state, scan the front and back of your ID, follow a few simple steps to verify your identity, and send the information to your state for approval. Watch a video on how to add your digital driver’s license to your Apple Wallet.

Google Wallet is available on the Play Store, but its digital ID feature isn’t out just yet. Once this upgrade is released, you’ll be able to add your digital IDs to the wallet.

Where can I download Apple Wallet or Google Wallet?

Most Apple devices should already have the Wallet app installed. If yours doesn’t, you can get the app for your Apple Watch or iOS device on the App Store.

If you’re looking for the Google Wallet app for your Android device, you can download it on Google's official site. (It hasn't been released to the Google Play store yet.)

Are digital driver’s licenses secure?

While a digital driver’s license adds convenience to your life, there are many security and privacy concerns to consider before you use the service. With both Apple and Google’s digital driver’s license features, you’re getting the same level of security offered with the operating system's wallet features.

You’ll need to use Face ID, Touch ID, or a password to unlock your digital driver’s license on the iPhone. Google will also require a password. It is important to create a strong password to protect your personal information.

Your digital license is also verified with your state to prove it belongs to you before safely uploading it to your phone’s wallet.

While your personal data is secure, several privacy concerns have stemmed from digital driver’s licenses. The ACLU recently highlighted seven concerns about digital IDs. Those concerns include:

  • “Law enforcement could use digital driver’s license verification as a pretext to search people’s devices;
  • Records of digital ID checks could be held in a centralized database and allow for tracking of our everyday activities;
  • The DMV or other issuing agency could instantly and remotely revoke digital driver’s licenses, exacerbating existing abusive practices of driver’s license suspensions;
  • Digital driver’s licenses could be used to amass data about ID holders by private companies without knowledge or consent;
  • Digital driver’s licenses could limit personal control over the data that ID holders release;
  • Hackers could exploit the adoption of digital driver’s licenses; and
  • Digital ID holders could be forced to install government software on their phones."

Where can you store a digital driver’s license?

Apple lets you store your digital driver’s license securely in its wallet app. (Google should follow suit once its digital ID feature releases.) Several states also have separate apps that you can use to store your driver’s license, including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

The popularity and legality of digital driver’s licenses continue to grow, with several states announcing support for the technology. However, digital licenses are currently only legal in a few states, including Arizona and Maryland. Other states are starting to roll out digital IDs, including Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Ohio, as well as Puerto Rico.

While TSA is currently testing the use of digital licenses in airports, you may not be able to use your digital license every time you need to show your ID. States will have individual regulations on how a digital driver’s license can be used.

How does a digital driver’s license work with REAL ID and TSA?

A digital driver’s license is compatible with REAL ID. The TSA says, “In 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Modernization Act, allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to accept electronic transmission of user identity information and opening the possibility that novel digital technologies could be used to verify and maintain identity.”

As with all new technology, it’s important to ensure your information is secure and that the digital ID is approved wherever you’re going.

According to the TSA, “Digital identity has the ability to strengthen airport security and enhance the passenger experience by reducing touchpoints, providing greater privacy, and verifying IDs more accurately. The ability to automate the ID verification process is expected to mitigate risks while helping move passengers through screening more quickly.”

TSA is allowing digital driver’s licenses at select airports around the country. However, it is recommended that you still have your physical driver’s license with you and check the list of airports where TSA accepts digital driver’s licenses:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Gulfport Biloxi International Airport (GPT)
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

What are the benefits of a digital driver’s license?

There are many benefits to a mobile ID, here are just a few:

  • Control over personal data: A digital license allows you only to provide the necessary information when giving your driver’s license. For instance, TSA will only see the required information to verify your flight information.
  • Contactless interaction: There’s no need to hand over a physical card to someone. You can just show them your ID on your phone.
  • Secured personal data: If you have a lost or stolen ID, you have no control over who sees that personal information. With a digital driver’s license, no one can access your information without the password, even if you use a passwordless login like a biometric scan of your fingerprint or face.
  • Remote erase: If you lose your cell phone, you can also remotely remove your ID and personal information from your mobile device and know that your data is safe.

Which states let you use a digital driver’s license?

States will take some time to roll out digital driver’s licenses. For now, Maryland and Arizona are the only states using it. Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio, and Puerto Rico will implement digital licenses in the future.

Digital driver’s license FAQs


+

Can you put your driver’s license on your iPhone?

You can put your driver’s license on your iPhone if you reside in a state that currently allows digital driver’s licenses.

To add your license, go to your Apple Wallet and click the + icon. From there, you can follow the instructions within the app.


+

Can I add my passport to Apple Wallet?

As of right now, there is no capability to add your passport to your Apple Wallet. You can add boarding passes, concert tickets, and more to your Apple Wallet, though.


+

Can I show my ID on my phone?

Several states are currently rolling out digital driver’s licenses, which will allow you to have your ID on your phone for TSA and other purposes. The digital driver’s licenses undergo a verification process before becoming functional on your phone.

Bottom line

Digital driver’s licenses will add convenience to TSA checkpoints, and as the technology evolves, you’ll be able to use your digital license even more.

However, the roll-out may have a few hiccups as states start to approve digital licenses and implement the system. If you live in a state that already has a digital driver’s license program and you’re traveling through a TSA checkpoint that currently allows them, make sure you still have your physical ID with you just in case.

Apple and Google use software that keeps your ID secure in their wallet apps, just like your credit cards and other digital assets. However, as with all other personal data, there is some risk if your phone gets stolen or information gets hacked, but it is unlikely. To access your digital driver’s license, you’ll need your Face ID or password.

Author Details
Andrew Adams
Andrew Strom Adams helps businesses with a variety of marketing and communication efforts including content strategy and writing, branding, marketing, and more. He holds an MBA from Westminster College in Salt Lake City and a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University.