Interview: MorphoTrust VP Jenny Openshaw on the future of digital driver's licences

06/01/15

By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

When Iowa officials revealed last December that the state planned to pilot a digital driver's licence app in 2015, observers were divided by the concept.

Proponents said the solution makes sense in a world where our identities are increasingly mobile. A virtual licence that could show real-time information and use biometric security could also offer more security than a plastic card.

However, critics pointed to privacy issues raised by the need to hand a police officer smartphones for scanning – would cops take the chance to peruse text messages and photos? Others argued that virtual licences could be hacked easier than licences can be forged.

Security Document World talked to ‎Jenny Openshaw, VP at MorphoTrust, the company that is developing the digital licences, about the technology’s potential and the issues surrounding it.

What is driving demand for digital versions of secure documents?

This is a trend that MorphoTrust has anticipated. We have long believed that there would be a need for secure, convenient digital driver's licences that take the trust and assurance instilled into the physical licences into the mobile world.

There was a need to duplicate this in a credential that can be carried on mobile devices, because people today are often in many cases more likely to carry their smartphones than their wallet.

We anticipated this shift a couple of years ago, and are pleased that this process has reached a stage today where we are talking with many of the 42 states that we supply with physical licences about piloting the concept. Of course Iowa is the state that is furthest down that road.

What kind of security features will the new digital driving licence have?

There are number of features that are currently being reviewed to create the right mix of security technology. The physical driver's licence we issue for 42 states are more than just a picture on a plastic card – they involve a number of security features designed to foil counterfeiters – and there will be a combination of features in the digital licence.

Some will be overt and visible to the naked eye. Others will be covert, hidden features that can only be authenticated by machine reading technology.

These features are still being reviewed and developed in concert with our customers so it is a little premature to talk about them in detail. But rest assured that we are our concept is planned to have linked and layered security technology protecting the physical card in the digital world.

Are there any plans to incorporate biometric security into the digital documents?

Biometrics are being considered as a potential means of securing the drivers licence and are part of the discussions we are having with our customers today. Certainly things like fingerprint, iris or facial recognition technologies could be used. But it will really depend on how our state partners want to proceed. It is a little early to say that biometrics will be used on the digital licence, but it is safe to say that this is possible – the technology is there.

Would there be plans to include two-factor authentication in the digital documents?

Actually it will be multi-factor authentication- there will be multiple ways to ensure it is the right digital document. This is important because the drivers licence will need to be used in a number of different environments. For example by law enforcement, or by the retail community, and so there will be different means of authentication which are most appropriate for those different scenarios.

How would police officers scan the digital driver licences?

This is one of the processes we are currently discussing and designing with our customers. The goal is to address some of the concerns that will obviously arise. For example, a reluctance to hand over cell-phones to an officer if it meant they would have access to information on the device other than the digital drivers licence. There are ways we can accommodate these issues and concerns, and we are in the process of working through with the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and with law enforcement.

Beyond driving licences, what other secure documents do you feel would be good candidates to go digital?

We are looking all forms of digital identity at this point, and have another initiative underway with the state of North Carolina and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees many of the benefit programmes there.

This project, for which we have received a grant by NSTIC, is studying the development of an eID which will allow people applying for benefits to use state-issued identity such as driver's licences to apply for benefit programmes online without having to make in-person visits. This will speed up the process and equal greater convenience for the consumer and the agency.   

How do you see the market for digital secure documents evolving over the next few years?

We already have about 30 states that allow people to carry their car insurance details on mobile apps. Boarding passes on phones are well established. So really the trend is accelerating. Your mobile device is really becoming your digital wallet, and so it makes perfect sense that all the identiy documents that you usually carry in your wallet – whether a driver's licence, health or car insurance card - will also now be stored there.

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MorphoTrust is in talks with 42 states over piloting digital driver's licences.
MorphoTrust is in talks with 42 states over piloting digital driver's licences.

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