Maryland expands digital licenses, becoming 1st state to offer them in Google Wallet

Getting through airport security could be a bit easier for Maryland travelers with the launch of a digital ID option for people with Android smartphones.

Maryland is now the first state in the nation to offer a digital driver’s license and ID for Google Wallet — and the first to offer a digital ID on both major mobile operating systems. Last May, Maryland launched the mobile ID option for Apple Wallet, which is available on iPhones.

Thursday’s announcement means virtually all Marylanders with smartphones have the ability to swipe their phone at a TSA checkpoint — where the option is available — to pass through security.

“Maryland is leading the way in creating a more competitive and innovative digital environment while prioritizing accessibility and customer service,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore in a statement. “Maryland Mobile ID advances our administration’s work to deliver safe and secure services that benefit all Marylanders.”

Basically, a mobile driver’s license, or mobile DL, is a digital version of your state-issued ID that is stored on your mobile device. It doesn’t look like the traditional Maryland license when you swipe to bring it up on your screen, but all the necessary information is stored in the back end.

So how did Maryland get to be an early adopter?

“In Maryland, we really felt like this was a great opportunity to provide to our residents, to test out the technology to see how it works,” said Chrissy Nizer, the head of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, in an interview with WTOP. “And really to be on the front end of it. We know that customers want convenience that is provided by a mobile DL.”

How it works at TSA checkpoints

For now, the option to use a digital ID to go through airport security checkpoints is only available at certain airports and only at PreCheck stations. Both BWI International and Reagan National airports are among the 25 airports across the country where digital licenses are accepted, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Here’s how it works: Passengers approach the podium at the checkpoint. If desired, they can consent to providing their mobile ID simply by turning on Bluetooth and holding their phones near a reader device. The information stored in the digital ID is encrypted and sent digitally to the device. A real-time camera captures an image that is then compared to the photo stored on the mobile ID, as well as the information from the passenger’s boarding pass. A TSA officer verifies the match and the passenger proceeds to screening — all without having to exchange a boarding document.

There are other potential uses of mobile driver’s licenses, although those are still in the early stages of development.

For example, in the future you may no longer be asked to “show some ID” but instead hold your phone up. The mobile lD could also be used to verify your identity for a range of online transactions.

“I think there’s just a ton of examples of how this can be used going forward,” Nizer said. “Certainly online, there’s certainly a need to be able to verify identity and I think that there are limitless opportunities for to use.”

How do you get one?

So, how do you get a digital driver’s license?

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration website includes a step-by-step guide to adding your license or ID to either Google Wallet or Apple Wallet. You’ll need your physical license in front of you and will need to take a photo of it during the enrollment process.

Nizer said making sure the system is secure was the top priority. The technology behind the digital licenses is based on international standards. In addition, all the data on the mobile ID is encrypted and no data is ever shared unless users provide consent.

“It’s important for residents to know that every time it’s their choice to exchange the data. In fact, you have to click or indicate on the device that you do want to share the data with that recipient,” Nizer said. “So that’s important — you always have control of the transaction.”

Maryland officials say the digital version of your license is meant to be a companion to your actual physical driver’s license, so you should always carry the physical version with you, too.

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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