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Apple’s digital state ID cards are now available for Maryland residents

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The push for digital cards is getting real

You can present your card from your Apple Watch as well.
Image: MVA / Apple

Apple’s Wallet app now supports Maryland state IDs and driver licenses, marking it as the second state after Arizona to gain the digital identification feature (via MacRumors). Residents of the Free State can now use their iPhone or Apple Watch at certain TSA checkpoints at participating airports, including Baltimore / Washington International and Reagan National. The iPhone won’t carry a “picture” of the card, only a means to transmit info to a receiving device — and you use biometrics to confirm the information being sent to the device.

The digital IDs aren’t a replacement for physical ones, though. Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration (essentially, the DMV) website states that law enforcement does not accept Maryland Mobile ID, meaning you’ll still have to carry your wallet around for driving and even flying. For now, the only benefit of the digital ID is that your physical ID can remain tucked away at the selected airports.

But this is just a start for the digital ID revolution, and there’s going to be a bit of confusion along the way. So if you’re looking forward to a future where you wouldn’t need to carry a wallet, then adoption will be key. For residents of Maryland, instructional videos are available on the state’s website to help with the push, with production value we’re more used to seeing from Apple. That’s likely because Apple contracted explicitly to have control over the marketing and other aspects of the deal with each state.

There has been concern that once law enforcement is able to access information via these devices, the attention comes to your iPhone, and they may ask for you to hand your phone over even though that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report last year on the “Identity Crisis” posed by a shift to digital IDs pointed out a slew of potential threats to privacy that should be considered, including police access to people’s phones, user control over data, and even longer-term issues like potential expansions in the information contained or requirements for use remotely. Along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), they submitted a series of questions to the Department of Homeland Security, seeking to have these concerns addressed before the technology is in use widely.

Adding a state ID to your iPhone requires an iPhone 8 or later running at least iOS 15.4, and an accompanying Apple Watch must be a Series 4 or later running at least watchOS 8.4. Once you meet those requirements, you can tap the plus button on the upper-right side of the Wallet app, tap Driver’s License or State ID, select your state, then follow instructions that include taking pictures of the front and back of your ID. You will be asked to move your face in certain directions on camera, on a screen that looks similar to a Face ID setup screen.

When presenting your card digitally, the Wallet app tells you what parts of your ID will be shared. Biometrics are used to confirm.
Image: MVA / Apple

The data will get transmitted to the state for verification, so the ID may not immediately be available after completing the process. Once you do have it, though, you’ll use it by holding your iPhone or Apple Watch up to the TSA check-in terminal. It’ll respond to your digital ID (similar to how Apple’s express transit card works at the Metro or Subway), and then there’s an additional check on your device that asks for your permission to continue.

That additional check means that the images taken are sent to the state — in my case, Maryland — to confirm I am the one setting it up. Apple’s overview of Wallet IDs privacy and security state that it rids of the data once the process is complete:

The subset of data from your ID is deleted from Apple servers right after sending your request to the state. Your selfie and the video of your movements are deleted from Apple servers shortly after the state issuing authority approves or denies adding your ID to Apple Wallet.

Both Apple and Maryland tout that digital IDs are convenient and secure — and if the technology is to be trusted, then we finally have a way to identify ourselves without having to hand over our personal data that’s usually on a physical card.