John Gruber: Why it’s safe to put your driver’s license in an Apple Wallet

“I got to talk with Apple about this today, and I’m impressed.”

A few important details:

Driver’s licenses and state IDs in Wallet are only presented digitally through encrypted communication directly between the device and the identity reader, so users do not need to unlock, show, or hand over their device.

This is a super key point. Of course no one wants to hand over their phone to anyone. More importantly, no one should ever hand their phone to a police officer, and that goes a hundredfold if it’s unlocked. The Wallet system Apple has designed for ID is very much like Apple Pay. When you pay with a physical credit card, you often hand your card to an employee. When you pay with Apple Pay, you never hand your phone to an employee. It wouldn’t even work, because no one else can authorize an Apple Pay transaction without your biometric authentication. This ID feature for Wallet is exactly like that: it doesn’t work without your biometric authentication, and your phone does not unlock when you use it.

An interesting sidenote: when using a Touch ID iPhone with Apple Wallet’s ID feature, you must register one and only one finger when you add your ID to your Wallet, and whenever you verify your ID in Wallet, you’ll need to use that same finger. Apple has never recommended allowing your spouse or partner to register one of their fingers on your iPhone, but many people do that. This feature is designed to ensure that the same person who enrolled their state ID in Wallet is the same person verifying it biometrically. (This is not an issue with Face ID, obviously.)

To use your ID in Wallet, you tap your phone (or watch) against an NFC terminal, and you get an Apple Pay-like sheet showing you who is asking for your ID (e.g., TSA), and exactly which details from your ID they’re asking for (e.g., name, photo, date of birth — but perhaps not other embedded details like your blood type or your home address). So if you’re just buying booze, say, and the clerk or server needs to check your age, they could prompt only to verify that you’re 21 or older, without even seeing your exact birthdate, let alone any other details from your ID. It is exceedingly more private than handing over a physical ID card, perhaps even more so than using Apple Pay compared to handing over a physical credit card.

My take: I’m always amazed when friends who carry iPhones tell me they don’t use — or even know much about — Apple Pay. This might get them off their butts.

10 Comments

  1. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. My take: I’m always amazed when friends who carry iPhones tell me they don’t use — or even know much about — Apple Pay. This might get them off their butts.”

    A couple of insights. First, I almost gasped listening yesterday to a CNBC interviewee tell the CNBC anchor interviewing him that “…. who would want to turn their phone over to another party?” So much bad information often is released up-front to negate the good news of the announcement. This is where I wish Apple would allow an informed Apple representative to be trotted out and interviewed giving information to inquiring news media reporters on the day of company announcements to the public. Make that Apple representative available all day to do nothing but be interviewed and answer media questions. This company policy would negate the so-called uninformed “talking heads” from attempting to rain on the good news, and that is exactly what this interviewee was doing: attempting to diminish the merit of Apple’s new digital ID announcement.

    Second, one ramification of this Apple announcement is to direct many non-informed Apple iPhone (and Watch) users to Apple Pay inside the Wallet. It amazes me all the Apple consumers with iPhones (and especially with Apple Watches) who are NOT using all the blessed features of their devices, such as Apple Pay. Either they simply don’t know about these device software features or I believe many of them are intimidated by the technology itself. Once they learn how to use the features they become fanatics over continuing to use the features going forward because activities of daily living just got a lot more simpler and even fun.

    Summary: I believe this new Wallet system Apple has designed for ID is going to ramp-up the use of Apple Pay because Apple Pay is a natural transition once an individual uses the Apple Wallet. This means increased Apple revenues going forward for Apple Pay.

    2
    September 2, 2021
  2. Timothy Smith said:
    I have Apple’s magnetic wallet on my iPhone. I can only fit 2 cards, so I go with Apple Card and Kentucky driver’s license. (I just updated iOS 15 beta last night, but no option for adding ID yet.) My Mustang Mach e supposedly started being manufactured last week. So, within a month or 2, I will have eliminated the car key and driver’s license, and added my debit card. My life will be complete.

    5
    September 2, 2021
  3. Gregg Thurman said:
    The only reason I continue to carry cc’s is for retailers that don’t support NFC on their terminals.

    I’d like to see my health insurance and Medi-Care card on Apple Pay. The only reason to carry a credit card holder after that would be for cash.

    2
    September 2, 2021
    • Timothy Smith said:
      A photo of my insurance card worked yesterday. I tried a photo of my drivers license at the drug store yesterday, but they demanded the plastic.

      0
      September 2, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      @Gregg The transfer of selected health insurance and health information would be a godsend to getting admitted to an ER or hospital, let alone to a new doctor’s office or when going for a blood test or imaging study. So much easier if the typical questions were already answered ONCE and then asked for and transferred as applies, instead of the 19th century method of writing it down on a copied to death form and someone else keys it into an electronic medical record, if it gets in at all (some just scan a copy as a PDF file and has the doctors sign it as “noted”). Not good enough!! The information should be readily available and accessible, especially medications, drugs, prior allergies, reactions, and medical conditions.

      Maybe Apple will introduce the Health Wallet ™ with this type of info available, plus updatable with hospital or outpatient medical records from visits, screenings, and appointments. The problem is a reasonably universal format that allows the so many disparate electronic medical record systems currently in use to be able to read it, populate the info into positions, and keep it confidential.

      Another huge area of information system disruption and finally in the patient or user’s favor and control rather than the institution’s.

      0
      September 3, 2021
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Two more safety factors:

    People don’t need to carry wallets which can be stolen.

    People are no longer a target for mugging, since the iPhone has no value without the person’s biometric.

    PS: Our vaccination QR code goes on the phone too.

    2
    September 2, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      Exactly!! Health vaccinations can then be uploaded with one-time verification through the health system that gave and recorded it, providing the primary source verification and assurance that the data is correct. A periodic polling can keep the information updated, especially if boosters or additional vaccines are needed and/or taken. Same would go for Covid status and recovery plus maybe Covid variant strain that was contracted if known.

      So much to do for the public health aspect. Of course, let’s say you tie in a criminal justice component, now that’s a can of worms only a few steps removed from a dystopian embedded chip which is updated after every LEO encounter. Hoo boy!

      0
      September 3, 2021
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    I am hoping we will become a “cashless” society through digital payments. There are many benefits for doing so from consumer safety and privacy to ease of payment transactions. One of the more important reasons is to circumvent the underground commerce of non payment of taxes that subtracts hundreds of billions in loss public revenues from taxing authorities due to cash transactions.

    1
    September 2, 2021
  6. John Konopka said:
    I really like that this will work like Apple Pay such that you don’t have to hand over your device. It even works with Apple Watch.

    I still carry cash to hand out to homeless people. Not many of them carry Square Readers or have an Apple Watch.

    1
    September 2, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      Same for tipping, especially if you don’t want to hand it over to the establishment hoping they do right by the staff. Some folks have even asked if they could Venmo a tip directly to the server or staff. Gets a little sticky if you’re giving out phone numbers, emails, etc. just to receive a payment. Perhaps folks could provide a payment App generated receiving QR for scanning by your phone and it anonymizes or tokenizes payment info in both directions?

      0
      September 3, 2021

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