Are Digital Licenses and IDs Coming to Texas?

By January 9, 2019Car Accidents

Wouldn’t it be great to have your driver’s license on your smartphone? People can already download airline boarding passes and grocery store coupons on their phones, so why not state-issued licenses and IDs? This would mean that drivers would have just one less card to carry.

According to an article in Statesman, digital IDs could be the reality in Texas if a recently-introduced bill is approved by the legislature. The new digital IDs will not replace physical cards but will serve as an alternate form of identification. Essentially, drivers could choose which ID to get or they could get both.

Why Go Digital?

Digital licenses could be convenient for residents. Currently, only Louisiana has digital IDs, though about another dozen states are considering them. Proponents of the measure identify the following benefits that the state and its citizens could reap by switching to digital:

  • Allows users to renew or update their licenses or IDs remotely
  • Lowers demand for physical cards, which can save Texas money
  • Makes it easier for people to prove their identity online
  • Allows the state to reinstate driving privileges in a more efficient manner

Even proponents acknowledge that there could be some negatives, however, such as:

  • Other states might not recognize digital IDs since they are so new. However, digital IDs do not replace physical cards, so Texas residents could still have both.
  • Currently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not recognize digital identification in the airport, so flyers would need physical identification cards if they decide to fly.

Legal Repercussions

There is another reason why digital IDs and licenses might have trouble getting off the ground—they increase the risk of an illegal search. All people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. A police officer must have a warrant supported by probable cause before he can search your possessions or person.

If people carry their licenses on their smart phones, then they are handing over a whole lot more information to the police. Imagine the typical traffic stop. The officer asks to see your ID, so you hand over your phone. An officer might interpret this as an invitation to suddenly go through your email, text messages, and other apps, searching for information that you might have committed a crime.

Software developers are looking into ways that drivers can share their license without giving the police access to their entire phone. This is such a critical issue that Texans should proceed cautiously, even if digital licenses and IDs are made available any time soon. Instead, it might be wise to stick with physical cards until the technological and legal issues are untangled.

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