The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) made a splashy headline this past week when it announced during a budget meeting that it is developing a driver’s license mobile app that it plans to roll out to Iowa citizens in 2015. Not only will Iowa citizens be able to display the digital driver’s license app during traffic stops, but also as valid identification for liquor purchases, and at Iowa airports during Transportation Security Administration screenings.
DOT Director Paul Trombino says the department has spent approximately $20,000 developing the app for cell phone-based driver licenses, which “is basically your license on your phone”. Just like the traditional plastic license issued in Iowa, the app will contain a photo, full name, address, date of birth, license number, gender, expiration date, some biographical information, and driving restrictions. The app will also display a scannable bar code that will link directly to the DOT’s verified and up-to-date databases.
The advent of an electronic driver’s license is not without concerns, including the necessity of handing the mobile phone over to a law enforcement officer for scanning in the officer’s vehicle during a traffic stop (will a curious law enforcement officer scan the phone for other information?). Other potential drawbacks include having a dead phone battery, losing the phone, or having screen damage that prevents successful bar code scanning. Thus far, the Iowa DOT has been an early adopter of other digital technologies, such as installing dashboard cameras on snowplows, and expanding driver’s license kiosk locations.
Although it is still in the development stage, Iowa DOT officials claim that the cell phone-based driver’s license app will be very secure, requiring a PIN for operation. It will also be available free of charge, and is optional – conventional physical licenses will still be issued. During the first few months of 2015, the app will undergo testing by state employees, and feedback from the testing period will be incorporated into the app before it is widely released. In this case, the Iowa DOT may just be on the road to creating convenience without eroding privacy.