August 28, 2015, 4:53 PM

Iowa test drives mobile driver’s licenses

Iowa’s Department of Transportation is piloting digital driver’s licenses on consumers’ smartphones.

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The Iowa Department of Transportation has the one thing the mobile wallet is missing: the mobile driver’s license.

Iowa DOT employees are the first to pilot having a mobile driver’s license on their state-issued iPhones. Iowa DOT is working with identity services company MorphoTrust USA, which already produces Iowa’s plastic driver’s licenses and IDs.

About 100 employees are a part of this initial test, which launched last week and will last 90 days, a spokeswoman for Iowa DOT says. The mobile driver’s license provides additional flexibility, the spokeswoman says. If a consumer needs to change her address, she can do it in the app and the ID will automatically update, as will the data in Iowa DOT’s system. At 12:01 a.m. on a consumer’s 21st birthday, her mobile license will automatically flip from its vertical orientation—indicating the motorist is under the age of 21—to a standard horizontal one.

Iowa will have the mobile ID as an option in addition to the plastic card license that the state will continue to issue. Plastic cards cost consumers $4 per year and there will be no additional charge for the digital version, the spokeswoman says.

A consumer will be able to access her mobile driver’s license in an app. Iowa DOT has not finalized how the process will work when it’s offered to all motorists. In the future, an Iowa resident who wants this feature will have to go into the department of motor vehicles to request a mobile ID. She will then receive an email saying she is enrolled in the digital ID program, and then she will receive a separate email with a personal identification number. Once she downloads the mobile driver’s license app, she will enter her name and PIN. As an added layer of security, she then takes a selfie of herself with her smartphone. The app will use facial recognition software to match the selfie with the photo in the driver’s license on file at the DMV. If it matches, she then receives the mobile driver’s license in the app.

The license fills a smartphone screen horizontally. Instead of a static image, the head of the person in the picture moves its neck side to side. This will protect against consumers taking a screenshot of their license and sending it out for other people to use.

The app contains other security features designed to prevent fraud. For example, police officers and agents of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration will have a separate app that will be able to verify the legitimacy of a mobile driver’s license. Jenny Openshaw, vice president of state and local for MorphoTrust, declined to explain how that works, for security reasons. Retailers and restaurants also would also have a verification version of the app. 

Iowa DOT is seeking feedback from police agencies during the pilot. One benefit for a police officer is that he can obtain the identity of a motorist he pulls over before approaching the motorist’s car, by requesting that the driver transmit his mobile ID. This way, the officer can verify the identity of the motorist to see if he is dangerous before approaching the car.   

After the 90-day pilot, the Iowa DOT and MorphoTrust will work together to improve the app, and then could test the app with a small group of Iowa residents, Openshaw says. Iowa DOT hopes to roll out a mobile license statewide in 12 to 18 months, says the spokeswoman.

Iowa DOT has been working on the project since mid-2014, the spokeswoman says. It cost Iowa DOT $50,000 to develop the pilot. Since this is just a testing phase, MorphoTrust and Iowa DOTA have not yet agreed on an ongoing contract. 

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