The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Iowa Wants Smartphone App to Replace Driver's Licenses

Iowa's plan to allow digital driver's licenses may raise new privacy and security risks

2 min read
Iowa Wants Smartphone App to Replace Driver's Licenses
Photo: Iowa Department of Transportation

Iowa could become the first U.S. state to make smartphone apps official stand-ins for driver’s licenses as soon as 2016. But the idea of having police officers scan a driver’s smartphone during a traffic stop has left some legal experts wondering about possible privacy and security complications.

The Iowa Department of Transportation hopes to offer drivers the choice of using either the traditional plastic card or digital licenses on their smartphones, according to The Des Moines Register. The mobile app version of the driver’s license would be usable as identification during both traffic stops and airport security screening.

Iowa is among more than 30 states that already allow drivers to show electronic proof of insurance on their smartphones. Many airport travelers have also become used to airline e-tickets that contain scannable barcodes displayed on their smartphone screens.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has said it envisions the smartphone never leaving the owner’s hand during the scanning process. A spokesperson told the New York Times that a privacy feature might also block users from looking at other information while the digital license app is open on a smartphone.

Still, both legal experts and police officers have begun raising concerns about how the digital driver’s license would work in practice. The Iowa State Patrol currently has no handheld scanners, which means police officers would have to take the smartphones back to the license scanners in their patrol cars. That idea may not appeal to drivers concerned about the privacy of data on their mobile devices, according to Sgt. Scott Bright, public information officer for the Iowa State Patrol.

“What happens if I drop your phone on the highway and a semi runs over it? Who will be liable?” said Sergeant Bright said in a New York Times interview. “What happens if your phone locks automatically? What happens if someone sends you a text message while I have the phone? I don’t want to see anyone’s text messages.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation still has time to coordinate with the Iowa State Patrol and local police departments on the digital driver’s license proposal—it doesn’t envision making the option available to the public until 2016 at the earliest. But it seems that there are still plenty of legal, technical, and logistical road bumps to overcome.

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
Vertical
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
DarkBlue1

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":["31996907"]}