Why Putting Your ID on an iPhone Might Be Unsafe

Convenience or risk?

Key Takeaways

  • iOS 15 will allow users to store their driver’s license on their iPhone.
  • Apple says putting an ID on your phone will be convenient and could be accepted at airports.
  • Privacy experts warn that putting government documents on your phone comes with risks.
Woman checking-in on phone in airport

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

You’ll soon be able to store your ID on an iPhone, but the move is raising eyebrows among some privacy experts. 

Apple announced a new feature to let users scan their driver's licenses and save them to their iPhones to use as a valid form of identification. It’s part of a continuing effort to make iPhones a one-stop-shop to hold everything from credit card data to movie tickets. Putting government documents on your phone is different, however. 

"The most immediate security risk is that losing your iPhone will be even more like losing your physical wallet and that someone who steals or recovers your lost iPhone will now be able to access your driver's license," Christopher Budd, a senior threat communications manager at the cybersecurity firm Avast, said in an email interview. "Another risk is that any malware that can access the Apple Wallet will be able to access the driver’s license stored there as well."

Coming to Your iPhone This Fall

Apple says the new ID feature will help get you through airport security and other places faster. The company is working with state authorities and the Transportation Security Administration on the plan, and it’s expected to launch this fall with iOS 15.

However, this technology is so new that right now, that benefit is mostly theoretical, Budd said. It’s unclear if an Apple Wallet-stored copy of your driver’s license will be accepted by government agencies like the TSA as a valid form of official identification.

Driver's License ready to use on iOS 15


"There will probably be new services that can make use of your ID, including government services, utilities, insurance, gaming, and more," Jason Hong, a researcher in Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Security & Privacy Institute, said in an email interview. "Anything that needs identification, age verification, or filling in your address could use this."

You also don't have to worry as much about losing your wallet, and your data can also be more easily backed up, Hong said. 

"In the long run, digitized IDs also help reduce certain kinds of identity theft and fraud," he added. "For example, the IRS could cut down on fake tax refunds, and credit card companies could reduce the use of stolen credit cards."

"Convenience nearly always comes at a cost, and there is a danger that this creates opportunities for greater levels of surveillance."

Apple’s move could create a more secure version of driver licenses, as it makes it harder to create fake IDs, Brad Ree, chief technical officer of the ioXt Alliance, a cybersecurity organization, pointed out in an email interview. 

"In addition, having IDs on iPhones will help reduce theft of additional important items that may be carried in wallets since wallets are typically left in cars or gym locker rooms," he added. "With most consumers carrying their phones for music, payment options, and even fitness tracking, consumers rarely have their wallets handy—and when they do, it's typically during the few times that they get a ticket driving to the gym."

Privacy and Security Risks Abound

But having an ID on your phone comes with privacy risks, Hong warned. For example, there’s a question looming about how Apple and other companies will use these digital IDs. 

"Apps are already highly aggressive in terms of what kind of smartphone data they try to use, and IDs will make it even worse," he said.

Woman holding smartphone and passport at airport

Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images

There’s also a question of equality. "For example, not everyone has a driver's license," Hong pointed out. "Services also should be compatible with a wide range of devices too, not just iOS smartphones, so it would be better if it were an open standard." 

There is a threat that the introduction of legitimate digitized IDs may create the opportunity for authorities to demand ID in more public locations, privacy expert Ray Walsh said in an email interview. This could vastly increase surveillance and cause people to be tracked constantly. 

"Convenience nearly always comes at a cost, and there is a danger that this creates opportunities for greater levels of surveillance," he added.

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