Saturday, December 13, 2014

Digital driver's licenses come with one small (big) problem

Iowa announces it is testing driver's licenses on phones. But what if a police officer asks to take your phone, so that he can check your license in his own vehicle?

by Chris Matyszczyk @ChrisMatyszczyk
December 11, 2014 5:50 PM PST

Can a digital driver's license ever be secure? Iowa wants to find out.KETV/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Our cars, our houses and the rest of our lives will soon be controllable through our cell phones.

It's convenient and, well, it allows us to be entirely digital, traceable beings.

When Iowa's Department of Transportationannounced Wednesday that it was testing driver's licenses on phones, there was fascination. The idea was that there would be a free app that contained your license. When you need to show it, you tap in a PIN code and there it would be.

It's easy to forget conventional driver's licenses. They're piddly and fiddly. How much more convenient it would be if they were just stored in our phones, along with our boarding passes, insurance cards and pictures of the lover we met last Friday?

Just as I was bathing in the sense of it all, I suffered a momentary lack of oxygenation. Like many others, I'm not sure I would enjoy freely handing my phone to a police officer. They can be curious people -- sometimes, very curious.

If I hand them my phone in order to show them my license, won't it be a little tempting for them to check what else I have on it? After all, during many a traffic stop, an officer will ask you to stay in your car, take your license and insurance, then go back to his or her own vehicle to check their legitimacy.

If your phone was taken, wouldn't the temptation of additional discovery be too great? After all, who could forget the police officer who insisted that everyone who plays frisbee golf must be a pot smoker? (That happened in, oh, Iowa.)

What if he had the frisbee golfer's phone in his vehicle and tried to search it to confirm his hunch?