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Digital Conversion: Altering Proof of Conventional Identification

Smartphones continue to further engrain themselves into all corners of our daily lives. We can process payment for items and services with Apple Pay and Google Wallet, accumulate retail rewards and loyalty points, and even maintain proof of auto insurance in a digital format. So how about digital evidence of identification? 


At The BARS Program, we were recently asked our position on this compelling evolution of the conventional plastic ID card. And even as five states inch closer to issuing app-based digital driver’s licenses for eligible residents, we’re staying rooted in traditional practice of valid documentation. Here’s why: 


* Personal privacy. When you offer your phone to a server, bartender, store clerk, or even a police officer at a traffic stop, to show proof of identification, are you handing over your right to personal privacy? Take that police encounter; with your personal device in hand, there’s nothing stopping the officer from browsing through your personal device or viewing private text messages and emails as they are received. According to a 2014 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, that officer isn’t permitted to view your phone without a legal search warrant.2 

* Equipment compatibility. Law-enforcement uses the Traffic and Criminal Software program (Tracs) to document traffic violations, manage incidents, file charges, etc. Research indicates this system requires a scan of the barcode found on the backside of a driver’s license for quick and accurate verification of the information included 

on the front side. Until the format of state-issued digital licenses is formulated and then standardized across all states to include the barcode, next generation IDs and Tracs aren’t compatible. 

* Nation-wide PR campaign. Driver’s licenses are used to validate identification, including address and age. If states convert to a digital version, the nation will have to embark on a massive PR campaign to educate and create awareness among retailers, restaurants and other parties that this documentation is legitimate. Those organizations would then have to work to align employee compliance training programs, update policies and more. This could cost big dollars for all. 

* Battery life. Unless it’s the no. 1 item on your to-do list, smartphones inevitably run out of battery. If you rely wholeheartedly on this device for proof of identification, payment, communication, etc., you’ll need to make plenty sure the battery is 100 percent charged every waking moment. You never know when you’ll need personal identification handy. 


So, while Delaware, California, Iowa, Arizona, Alabama and New Jersey are actively driving identification into the next generation, the convenience of digital usability just isn’t enough for us to jump on the bandwagon. We will continue to monitor developments, as well as the outcomes of pilot programs and participation in Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Wyoming.1 


It is possible we will have another opinion is years to come once Digital ID formats are standardized, made fully compatible with law-enforcement systems and are increasingly put into circulation. If you have questions or want to engage in identification validation as part of The BARS Program’s compliance-training for alcohol and tobacco, please contact us at or call 1-877-540-5500. 


1 2017 Government Technology

2 2014 The New York Times


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