Why Digital IDs Might Not Be Convenient...Yet

Adoption takes time

Key Takeaways

  • Your iPhone authenticates your ID when added, just like a credit card.
  • You can present your ID without ever handing over your iPhone.
  • Digital ID makes fake IDs impossible.
Closeup on someone holding a phone with colorful light bursts around it.

Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash

Having your ID in your phone might not be as convenient as you think. 

iPhone owners in Arizona and Georgia will be the first to be able to add their IDs to the Wallet app, with those in Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah to follow. It can then be used in place of your physical ID, although not by holding up your iPhone and showing it.

Whoever is checking your ID needs to use an identity reader, and you tap your iPhone onto the machine, just like you do when paying with Apple Pay. It’s a slick implementation and—as we shall see—secure. But for you, the user, there are several downsides.

"What happens if you’re traveling across state lines and the state you’re traveling to doesn’t accept digital IDs? Or what if you’re stopped by a cop who isn’t familiar with the digital ID yet and refuses to accept it?" attorney Mark Pierce told Lifewire via email.

"Until there’s widespread use and acceptance of digital IDs, it’s best to keep your physical ID with you at all times."

Digital ID

The advantage of a digital ID for the user is convenience. It’s one less card to carry in your wallet, although you’ll still have to carry that card for a long time to come, for times when you need to present ID to places without an ID reader machine—a dive bar, for example. But Digital ID also enhances your privacy. 

The Apple Wallet State ID function on an iPhone and a Apple Watch.

Apple

For institutions, the appeal is much stronger. But, as we shall see in a moment, your ID is verified when you add it to your iPhone, and it’s therefore much harder to present a fake.

It might take a while to catch on, but digital IDs will probably be the norm before we know it. It’s like Apple Pay. To begin with, you had to carry your credit card with you just in case. Now, you can use Apple Pay pretty much everywhere. 

"Digital ID is definitely the future, but there will be a steep learning and adoption curve until we see widespread use," says Pierce.

Trust and Verify

Apple’s implementation is clever. When you add your ID to the Wallet app, you scan it with the iPhone’s camera, and then you present your face to the selfie camera. The phone will then contact the state that issued the card to verify it. Obviously, fake IDs won’t work, so this is already better from the state’s point of view. 

For iPhones with Touch ID, you are prompted to choose one fingerprint to use for authentication. This prevents you from letting another person share your ID. 

When you present your ID, you tap your iPhone onto the reader machine. The phone then displays the information that will be shared. You can review this, and if you agree, you authenticate with a finger or with FaceID. Again, this all seems very familiar for Apple Pay users. 

Screenshots of the Apple Wallet ID capabilities.

Apple

One interesting privacy bonus is that the iPhone can present limited info. For instance, if you want to buy liquor, the ID machine in the store only needs to query your age. Your name and any other data are withheld. In fact, it doesn’t even need to share your age. Your iPhone just has to confirm that you are 21 or over.

Privacy-wise, Apple’s implementation is solid. You control access to your ID at all times, you never need to hand your iPhone over, and the other party never needs to even look at your iPhone’s screen.

The only downsides are the rate of adoption and whether you want to use digital ID. 

Uptake

The biggest barrier will surely be short-lived. As more and more states and federal agencies support digital IDs, they’ll become easier to use. Meanwhile, you may have problems that are a bit more dangerous than not being able to use Apple Pay at that remote gas station. 

"For traffic stops, you’d have to clearly explain to the cop what you’re doing, and keep your phone in their line of sight the entire time, so they can see you’re simply going to your Apple Wallet to show your digital ID," says Pierce.

And you also have to think about the battery life on your phone when you're not in your car. "There shouldn’t be an issue of your phone dying while you’re in the car since you should be able to charge it while you’re driving," says Pierce.

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