Proposed ‘mobile driver’s licenses’ stirring up controversy

October 18, 2023

Tyson Fisher


The Transportation Security Administration has issued a proposed rule for “mobile driver’s licenses,” and one group is not happy about it.

On Monday, Oct. 16, the Identity Project submitted comments in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking “Minimum Standards for Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards Acceptable by Federal Agencies for Official Purposes; Waiver for Mobile Driver’s Licenses.” The group calls the term “mobile driver’s license” highly misleading.

What is the mobile driver’s license?

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, TSA is proposing to amend the REAL ID regulations to waive the regulatory requirement that mobile driver’s licenses must be compliant with REAL ID requirements to be accepted by federal agencies for official purposes.

TSA is proposing to establish a temporary waiver process that would permit federal agencies to accept mobile driver’s licenses for official purposes on an interim basis when enforcement begins on May 7, 2025, but only if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The mobile driver’s license holder has been issued a valid and unexpired REAL ID, compliant physical driver’s license or identification card from the same state that issued the mobile driver’s license
  • TSA has determined the issuing state to be REAL ID-compliant
  • TSA has issued a waiver to the state

“Driven by increasing public demand for more convenient, secure and privacy-enhancing forms of identification, many states have invested significantly and rapidly in recent years to develop mobile driver’s license technology,” the proposed rule states. “A mobile driver’s license is generally recognized as the digital representation of an individual’s identity information contained on a state-issued physical driver’s license or identification card. A mobile driver’s license may be stored on a diverse range of portable or mobile electronic devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches and storage devices containing memory. Like a physical card, mobile driver’s license data originates from identity information about an individual that is maintained in the database of a state driver’s licensing agency.”

Unlike physical driver’s licenses that are read and verified visually through human inspection of physical security features, a mobile driver’s license is read and verified electronically using a device known simply as a “reader.” Physical cards employ physical security features to deter fraud and tampering, such as “easily identifiable visual or tactile [security] features” on the surface of a card. A mobile driver’s license, in contrast, combats fraud through the use of digital security features that are not recognizable through human inspection.

Mobile driver’s license is ‘highly misleading’

The Identity Project calls mobile driver’s licenses “highly misleading” and questions the motive behind them.

The group points out the statement in the proposed rule that “the Electronic Credential Holder shall be required to have their Physical Credential on their person while operating a motor vehicle.”

“So the purpose of ‘mobile driver’s licenses’ isn’t actually licensing of motor vehicle operators, as one might naively assume from the name,” The Identity Project states. “Rather, the purpose of the ‘mobile driver’s license’ scheme is to create a national digital ID, according to standards controlled by the TSA, (American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators) and other private parties, to be issued by state motor vehicle agencies but intended for use as an all-purpose government identifier linked to a smartphone and used for purposes unrelated to motor vehicles.”

The Identity Project claims that most of the details of TSA’s proposal remain secret. Therefore, the group’s comments focus on unanswered questions about the proposal.

“The fact that the TSA seeks to require the installation of a government app on a mobile device of a certain type suggests that the government has other purposes than mere ‘identification,’ such as the ability to track devices as well as people,” The Identity Project states. “But we don’t know, because we haven’t been able to inspect the source code for any of these apps.” LL

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