Washington state residents may no longer need to carry a physical driver’s license — as long as they have a smartphone.
A new bill in this year’s legislative session aims to establish groundwork to allow digital driver’s licenses in the state of Washington.
Much like how a smartphone can act as a digital credit card or a digital boarding pass, digital driver’s licenses are an electronic version of state-issued identification.
Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland already allow their residents to use digital driver’s licenses, while several other states have plans to do so. TSA this year began accepting digital licenses at select airports.
The process of obtaining a digital license typically involves taking a photo of a physical card with a smartphone.
Some states offer a standalone app to access digital licenses. Last year Apple began allowing residents to add their ID to the Wallet app on iPhone and Apple Watch. Google recently started testing similar support on Android through Google Wallet.
“I learned from the ease of having vaccine information on your cell phone why it would make sense to also offer this option for folks when it comes to their driver’s license,” Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), sponsor of SB 5105, told GeekWire in an email.
The bill asks the state’s department of licensing to come up with an implementation plan by the end of 2023, including assessing technical infrastructure to “maximize interoperability, utility, and privacy protection.”
A report from ACLU said digital driver’s licenses “could be disastrous for privacy.” Potential concerns include law enforcement using them to search someone’s phone; threats from hackers; and increased location tracking.
“I am confident that the [Department of Licensing] can address all privacy concerns,” Mullet said.
Fingerprint or face unlocking can be required to access the digital ID. Digital IDs may also provide privacy benefits. Some states allow “privacy views” to only reveal relevant information; for example, showing just your legal age when ordering a drink, versus additional details like eye color, weight, or address.
Mullet said people will still have the option to use physical licenses.
For now, the digital licenses act as a companion to the physical ID. In some states residents are still required to show a physical driver’s license to an officer from a state agency that doesn’t accept the digital version yet. And if you’re traveling to a state that does not accept digital IDs, you’ll need to carry a physical card.
But digital driver’s licenses may still be welcome news to those who forget their wallet at home, or are getting more comfortable replacing physical cards and paper with their smartphone.
“I think this idea will have tremendous support from the general public and has a reasonable chance of making it through the legislative process,” Mullet said.