Pri­vacy ad­vo­cates say dig­i­tal IDs may fos­ter more spy­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JU­LIA PORTERFIELD

An in­ter­net se­cu­rity com­pany has se­cured a fed­eral grant to cre­ate dig­i­tal driver’s li­censes that users would ac­cess and up­date in a smart­phone app.

Ge­malto has won a grant from the Com­merce Depart­ment to de­velop the app — a project that raises ques­tions about the se­cu­rity of a dig­i­tal ID card and its func­tion­al­ity.

Over the next few years, the in­ter­na­tional dig­i­tal se­cu­rity firm will use its of­fice in Austin, Texas, to work with the de­part­ments of trans­porta­tion and mo­tor ve­hi­cles in Idaho, Colorado, Mary­land and the District of Columbia to test-drive the pro­gram.

“Each ju­ris­dic­tion truly is unique, which brings tremen­dous strength through a cross-state col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort,” said Philippe Ben­itez, a spokesman for Ge­malto, which is based in Am­s­ter­dam. “By part­ner­ing with four dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try, with dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent laws, pro­to­cols and de­mo­graph­ics, we are stream­lin­ing the process.”

The pro­gram would of­fer a vir­tual du­pli­cate of a tra­di­tional plastic driver’s li­cense. Plans call for al­low­ing users to change their ad­dresses, up­date their or­gan donor sta­tus and re­new their li­censes — all with the tap of a but­ton.

“The Di­vi­sion of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles is con­stantly look­ing for ways to im­prove cus­tomer con­ve­nience and make our ser­vices eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for all res­i­dents, and this is cer­tainly a step in that di­rec­tion,” said Sarah Werner, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Depart­ment of Rev­enue. “This pro­gram will of­fer in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions and use state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy to keep any sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion se­cure and pri­vate, en­hanc­ing fraud pre­ven­tion and iden­tity se­cu­rity op­tions.”

The app maker plans to de­velop user pri­vacy mea­sures, in­clud­ing fa­cial and fin­ger­print recog­ni­tion as well as per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers. Wal­lets even­tu­ally will be­come ob­so­lete, with dig­i­tal de­vices pro­vid­ing ac­cess to bank ac­counts, credit card num­bers, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, health care data and other in­for­ma­tion, Ge­malto says.

Jim Harper, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity and pri­vacy re­searcher at the Cato In­sti­tute, said the de­vel­op­ment is clearly con­ve­nient — but that doesn’t mean it’s per­fect.

“[Dig­i­tal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion] may have the mag­netic qual­ity that the So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber did in its day, and ev­ery­one may use them for record keep­ing,” Mr. Harper said. “That means even more threat to pri­vacy than we have with ex­ist­ing iden­tity sys­tems.” Pri­vacy isn’t the only con­cern.

“If th­ese sys­tems are com­pre­hen­sively used, the gov­ern­ment is­suers could use their con­trol over your iden­tity to reg­u­late you,” he said. “Did you fail to pay park­ing tick­ets or shovel the snow off your walk? You’re de-iden­ti­fied un­til you do.”

Hav­ing one’s iden­tity es­sen­tially held for ran­som is a fright­en­ing thought, but it doesn’t ap­pear to be an im­me­di­ate threat. Dig­i­tal ID ini­tially will serve as a com­pan­ion, not a re­place­ment, to phys­i­cal driver’s li­censes.

But other prob­lems could arise. A user could be stranded with­out ID for the loss of a cell­phone or the death of a bat­tery. That could pose a prob­lem for a driver pulled over for speed­ing.

“A dead bat­tery is es­sen­tially the [dig­i­tal] equiv­a­lent of leav­ing your wal­let at home,” said Mr. Ben­itez, the Ge­malto spokesman. “You can’t show your plastic driver’s li­cense for ver­i­fi­ca­tion if it’s not in your pos­ses­sion, and like­wise, you can’t show a dig­i­tal ver­sion of your ID if your de­vice doesn’t have any power to func­tion.”

He sug­gests hav­ing al­ter­na­tive forms of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on hand or mem­o­riz­ing your driver’s li­cense num­ber.

In Au­gust, Ge­malto was one of six com­pa­nies awarded a grant from the Com­merce Depart­ment’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­ogy. More than $15 mil­lion was di­vided among the var­i­ous pi­lots with the goal of cre­at­ing a more se­cure on­line en­vi­ron­ment.

As every­day vir­tual re­liance in­creases, the in­sti­tute wants to stay ahead of the curve. The pro­grams, which in­clude health in­sur­ance and on­line shop­ping, will work to­ward mak­ing dig­i­tal iden­ti­ties safer.

Ge­malto’s $2 mil­lion grant will fund the project for two years, dur­ing which time the com­pany will de­velop, im­ple­ment and an­a­lyze the po­ten­tial suc­cess of its dig­i­tal driver’s li­cense pro­gram.

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