New ACLU Report Highlights Privacy and EquityConcerns with Digital Driver’s Licenses

Policymakers Must Balance Convenience and Anti-Forgery Benefitswith Potential Privacy Implications and Inequities of Digital Driver’sLicenses

May 17, 2021 12:00 pm

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NEW YORK — Digital driver’s licenses raise a number of privacy and equity concerns and should be adopted only if they incorporate available privacy-protecting technologies and steps are taken to ensure that they are not made mandatory and do not lead to a society of ubiquitous ID checks, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union published today. The report, “Identity Crisis: What Digital Driver’s Licenses Could Mean for Privacy, Equity, and the Future of American Life,” analyzes current efforts to push digital driver’s licenses and outlines the civil liberties that are implicated by the technology.

“A move from plastic to digital IDs is not a simple switch — it has big implications for American life.” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “If not done just right, digital driver’s licenses could be disastrous for privacy, increase inequity, and lead to pervasive ID checks in American life, including on the internet. Asking people to identify themselves is an exercise in power. We need to proceed very carefully here.”

The new report highlights seven privacy concerns with the proliferation of digital driver’s licenses:

  1. Law enforcement could use digital driver’s license verification as a pretext to search people’s devices;
  2. Records of digital ID checks could be held in a centralized database and allow for tracking of our everyday activities;
  3. The DMV or other issuing agency could instantly and remotely revoke digital driver’s licenses, exacerbating existing abusive practices of driver’s license suspensions;
  4. Digital driver’s licenses could be used to amass data about ID holders by private companies without knowledge or consent;
  5. Digital driver’s licenses could limit personal control over the data that ID holders release;
  6. Hackers could exploit the adoption of digital driver’s licenses; and
  7. Digital ID holders could be forced to install government software on their phones.

“Identity Crisis” emphasizes that digital driver’s licenses could bring about other harmful consequences over time. They may lead to a vast increase in unjustified demands for identity. They could expand to contain more and more information, including medical records, credit scores, or outstanding fines or fees. And they could become mandatory, exacerbating existing inequities in communities that do not have access to smartphones and further entrenching the digital divide.

The report also provides a number of recommendations for policymakers, DMVs, and technology companies looking to develop and adopt digital driver’s license proposals. These recommendations include a statutory bar on law enforcement access to devices, as well as “voluntary” requests for accessing a device’s contents, as part of digital driver’s license checks; no collection of data by issuers or those verifying digital IDs; user control over what data is released from their digital documents; a standardized provisioning process and transparent open source code for the software behind digital IDs; limiting ID checks to legitimate purposes; and creating a “right to paper” for anyone who doesn’t want or cannot access digital driver’s licenses.

The full report is here.

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