TSA to Begin Supporting Apple’s Digital IDs in February

Digital ID in Apple Wallet Credit: Apple
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The idea of digital driver’s licenses has begun gaining more traction in the U.S. as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) prepares to begin its rollout of Apple’s Digital IDs at key airports early next year.

Similar to the way that Apple drove the adoption of mobile payments through Apple Pay, it appears that the introduction of support for Digital IDs in iOS 15 has more government agencies sitting up and taking notice of the technology.

To be clear, it’s not that Apple invented the idea of Digital IDs — mobile payments were around long before Apple Pay came along too — but as usual, it’s implementing it in a way that’s secure and easy to use, building the technology into the Apple Wallet app where it will work consistently and reliably.

Until now, the few government agencies that have experimented with digital ID cards have all relied on dedicated apps that needed to be downloaded and installed from the App Store. These all worked differently, had their own restrictions, and were often cumbersome to use.

By contrast, Apple’s Digital ID feature will put your driver’s license or other state identification card directly in your Apple Wallet, right alongside your credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards, and even things like tickets and boarding pass.

Once digital IDs become more widely adopted, this will effectively add the last missing piece to turn Apple’s Wallet app into a true digital wallet; everything you need will be right there in a single app on your iPhone.

For instance, if you’re flying somewhere, you’ll be able to use Apple Wallet to pay for your cab ride to the airport with Apple Pay, check-in at the terminal with a digital ticket and boarding pass, and then zip through airport security by showing your digital driver’s license. All of this right from your iPhone or even your Apple Watch.

This scenario is probably why Apple’s starting its Digital ID initiative with the TSA as its key launch partner. When Apple unveiled the new feature at WWDC in June, it said right away that it was working with the TSA to make sure these digital IDs could actually be put to good use right away at airport security checkpoints.

Such a partnership gave Apple a pretty big win right out of the gate since it provides an incentive for individual state governments to get on board. After all, there’s little point in pushing a digital driver’s license if there’s nowhere for people to actually use it.

While the TSA didn’t offer a timeline, it did say that it would be a staged rollout, starting with a few airport security checkpoints, and now it’s just been announced that the first two will be coming in February, with two more to follow in March.

Unfortunately, the TSA hasn’t shared which airports will gain the ability to scan Apple’s Digital IDs. However, considering only eight states are officially on board so far, it’s a safe bet that it will be rolled out in one or two of those states first.

As an educated guess, we’d say it will probably come to Arizona and/or Georgia first since Apple said those would be the first two of the eight states to “introduce this new innovation to their residents,” with the other six states — Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah — to follow later.

The TSA made its announcement during a panel about early mobile driver’s license (mDL) adoption at a workshop of the Secure Technology Alliance.

During a panel about early mDL adoption, TSA shared its plans to begin accepting mDL use in airports at two state locations starting February of next year. The pilot program will add two additional states around March of 2022. TSA says standards-based digital ID’s, such as state-issued mDL will help streamline and secure the identity verification process.

Secure Technology Alliance

Further, according to the Secure Technology Alliance, surveys have shown that more people are interested in using digital IDs for travel than for any other use case.

The Secure Technology Alliance also shared how mobile driver’s licenses “are gaining traction in at least 30 states.” Although Apple has yet to announce any more official partners, we’ve heard previous reports from states such as Florida that are hankering to get on board, and it’s likely others are also at least in discussions with Apple. It’s also clear that Apple’s adoption of the technology has become a driving force behind it.

During the workshop many industry speakers agreed that Apple’s recent plan to integrate ISO/IEC 18013-5 mobile driver’s licenses into its Wallet app has garnered significant media attention for the mDL movement.

Secure Technology Alliance

Expanding into More U.S. States?

Sadly, however, this may not be as clear-cut as it sounds. As usual, Apple wants to be in the driver’s seat for agencies that want to put their digital IDs in Apple Wallet, and some state governments may not be so eager to play ball.

In fact, many states have already gone their own way in implementing app-based digital IDs. For instance, even though it wants to tie in with Apple Wallet, Florida already has its own Smart ID system. However, it relies on QR codes and server-based validation, so it’s quite different from what Apple has in mind.

As the Secure Technology Alliance points out, other states like Utah, Maryland, and Virginia have also conducted pilots or even begun actively using mobile driver’s licenses for verifying age, event concessions, and in financial institutions.

It’s also unclear how the TSA will work with these individual state initiatives. TSA representatives who spoke at the Smart Technology Alliance’s mDL workshop mentioned in passing that both NFC and QR codes would be supported, suggesting that they’re not implementing a solution that will work only with Apple Wallet. Officials have merely said that mDL Apple Wallet integration will be “its first step.”

To be fair, Apple’s solution isn’t entirely proprietary. It uses the ISO 18013-5 mDL (mobile driver’s license) standard that’s been around for a few years now. It’s just that government agencies have yet to adopt it widely.

Apple’s specific implementation of the mDL standard is likely to be considerably better for privacy and security, however, since it’s tightly controlling what information you’ll need to give out. For instance, after tapping your iPhone at a designated identity reader, such as the ones that will soon be found at TSA security checkpoints, you’ll be shown a prompt letting you know the specific information being requested, and you’ll have to authorize that request before anything is shared.

Of course, if you refuse to authorize it, your digital ID won’t be presented at all, so you won’t have much choice in some cases. Still, the personal info being offered up by the digital ID will often be considerably less than what can be gleaned from someone looking at your physical ID card, and at least you’ll know what they’re requesting.

This limited disclosure will be especially useful in situations where only very basic info is required, such as providing proof of age at a liquor store or club. In this case, the person checking your ID doesn’t even need to know your name, much less your home address; they merely need to see your photo and date of birth to prove that you meet the age requirement.

The same would also hold true for presenting identification at concert venues and sporting events to match proof of vaccination or ticketing requirements. Your physical ID includes a great deal of information that nobody needs to see merely to verify that your name and photo match the one shown on your vaccine card or ticket.

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