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December 12th, 2014

Big Brother & Smartphone Driver’s Licenses

Iowa has come up with a plan which I’m adding to my “bad idea” list — driver’s license by phone app.

It seems that beginning next year, which is now less than three weeks away, the good and cold state will be experimenting with issuing driver’s licenses as mobile apps rather than the old fashioned plastic kind that are best kept in a wallet. According to CNN, the app will be legal identification and will be secured by use of a PIN number. The app can also be secured using fingerprint or facial recognition technology said Andrea Henry with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Iowa Driver's lLicense App

Courtesy
iowa Dept of Transportation

The program is being pushed as an option of convenience. Iowa drivers can choose the app, an “old fashioned” plastic license or both.

“Really, it’s about giving customers a choice,” says Henry. “We’re in an increasingly mobile world, and there are so many things that are connected to your mobile phone.”

WHO TV in Des Moines reported that one security feature of the app license is that the driver’s face will be constantly in motion, rotating from side to side.

“It shows you it is real,” explained Iowa Department of Transportation’s Director, Paul Trombino. “It gives you a real perspective. There’s a lot of ways for us to offer security features which I’m not going to prescribe today so that, we know it’s the person.”

Although this may sound way cool to the folks who see being tethered to expensive data plans as a privilege to be savored, to me it smacks of Big Brother and 1984.

Over at CNET, Chris Matyszczyk agrees. He comes up with a picture of the future that may not be all that far fetched — especially if we remember to old adage that the policeman isn’t always your friend:

“If I hand them my phone in order to show them my license, won’t it be a little tempting for them to check what else I have on it? After all, during many a traffic stop, an officer will ask you to stay in your car, take your license and insurance, then go back to his or her own vehicle to check their legitimacy.

“If your phone was taken, wouldn’t the temptation of additional discovery be too great? After all, who could forget the police officer who insisted that everyone who plays frisbee golf must be a pot smoker? (That happened in, oh, Iowa.)

“What if he had the frisbee golfer’s phone in his vehicle and tried to search it to confirm his hunch?”

Yup. Sounds about right to me.

Evidently, this is also a plausible scenario to the folks with Iowa’s DOT — which probably means they don’t have any misconceptions about their men in blue. According to the DOT’s Ms. Henry, the app might possibly include a feature that will allow police to scan a driver’s phone license onto their own phones.

“We’re also looking at technology that might lock the rest of your phone and only leave the driver’s license app open,” she added.

Again, my fear is that this might open the Big Brother door even wider than it already is.

Sure, the phone license app might be offered as a option at first, but how long until it becomes a requirement and old fashioned plastic licenses are no longer available? This would mean that anybody who wants to drive a car, at least in Iowa, would have to invest in a certified NSA ready smartphone and data plan. If this sounds far fetched, think of the amount of required government paperwork that’s now only available online and sometimes must be filled in and filed from a computer.

At the risk of seeming to get the cart in front of the horse, let me ask: Wouldn’t this constitute yet another tax on the poor?

This would also open another door for those who want to squelch the vote in the name of stopping voter fraud.

How long after cell phone licenses become the status quo before overzealous state legislatures begin passing laws requiring voters at polling places to show proof of their right-to-vote on cell phones? If you think that photo IDs pose a hardship on the urban poor, just wait until they have to come up with a cell phone and data plan. And if a public-transportation-riding single mom living on public assistance has to decide whether to feed her kids or fork money over to Verison or Crickett so she can vote, what decision do you think she’ll make?

You may think me paranoid, and possibly I am. But as the old joke goes, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

7 comments to Big Brother & Smartphone Driver’s Licenses

  • Any new identication technology developed by any government entity is rarely good for the citizens. I come from a long, long line of military and law enforcement folks and I can say, without hesitation that this “feature” is nothing but another Big Brother tool.

    And so you think I’ve donned my tin foil hat to make this posting. If you had heard the stories around my kitchen table while growing up, you would shudder every time you saw a police officer. My courtesy to a police person isn’t given out of respect. It’s given out of fear and it has been for years. You’ve seen the growing awareness of police mis-use of power and deadly force. You’ve seen the “thin blue line” fall back into defense mode. It’s your job and mine to keep them there. I honestly feel bad for the real good guys on the other side of the badge.

    There is no running away from this technology. Eventually we will all be required to have it in some form or another. For that reason only, I worry about my children and grand children’s privacy and well-being.

  • Beyond the obvious Big Brother aspects of this:

    1: What happens if you’ve just dropped the phone into some form of liquid, and it’s not working?

    2: The phone repair jocks hack your data, and then sell your Licences to someone else?

    3: Someone wants a fake ID? Seems simple enough that I could make a fake ID for use for… Say boarding an airplane, getting some fertilizer, renting a van..

    Yea, this makes things more convenient on boths sides.

  • Brendan Perrine

    I also don’t like having to have my phone with me. Also what if I want a feature phone because smartphone battery life isn’t as good. Also I tend to lose my phone. Also will this give people the excuse if they were just getting out of their driveway that they were checking they had their liscense on their phone if they are texting while driving and just starting out. Also what about places that take your id and give it back to you when done. Do you really want them having your phone where they could acess it. Doesn’t this just seem like a security risk. Also making ids on smartphones if they are in a state with voter id laws could make voter id laws an even bigger poll tax. I don’t think you should need a smarthphone to vote.

  • nonya

    I do not have a smartphone, nor do I want one. I consider a phone (of any kind) an annoying necessity, and only have one because it is almost impossible to get along without one. Also, I consider smartphones to be vastly overpriced. I can buy a decent tablet for around $100. It has a larger (therefore more expensive) screen, more memory and storage (again costing more), and can do everything that a smartphone can do except make a phone call. And it will do most things much better than a smartphone. More expensive tablets (still not costing as much as some smartphones) can now make phone calls.

    Also, I have been reading that a small but growing number of people are going from a smartphone to a “dumb” phone , one that will only make calls ans do text messages. Not only are such phones smaller and easier to cary, battery life is much longer.

    Iowans should say not to this crap, it is just another way for Big Brother to get around your right to privacy and steal your private information. And just think what hackers will do with this…fake ID on yor smartphone, identity theft, etc…

  • Randal

    This won’t be a tax on the poverty level poor, because at least in some states they are provided with what typically gets called, an “Obamaphone”. Those who fall above the “poverty line” but are the working poor will be effected, but they will also be be effected by their other choices. (and fighting back by telling their reps, that they don’t want this as an unfunded mandate)
    Handing an unlocked device to a law officer, is an invite in their eye’s (been texting while driving, what is this text here, etc). It gives an excuse for them to help collect quota’s (or downgrade charges so statistics look better). Handling them a locked device, they need a warrant for. (recent supreme court ruling)
    I currently have an older candy bar style phone, only because the lack of cell phones. (I used them for work) It costs me less then $100 a year and I had texting blocked (don’t let the tech control you). There is only a couple of Smart phones I would even consider if this is required (and one isn’t available in the USA).
    One aspect of this story I am interested in, is how many states will accept this an an ID, or bars, etc, when not in Iowa?

  • Bob Robertson

    The only solution is to abolish the DMV.