Apple iPhones Can Quickly Maintain Your ID. Privateness Consultants Are On Edge : NPR


At its Worldwide Developer Conference this week, Apple announced a new feature in its upcoming iOS 15 operating system that will digitize government-issued licensees and ID cards. Hide Apple Caption

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Buying a coffee and catching a train is already possible with an iPhone, but Apple wants to completely replace the physical wallet.

To that end, Apple announced a new feature earlier this week that would allow users to scan their driver’s licenses and save them on their iPhones for use as a legitimate form of identification.

The company is working with an undisclosed number of states and the Transportation Security Administration on the plan, which aims to expedite tedious tasks like traversing airport security. It is expected to hit the market in the fall of this year, when Apple launches its newest iPhone operating system, iOS 15.

Apple touts the feature as an added convenience, despite sounding the alarm to privacy experts and advocates.

“This strikes me as the latest example of trying to get involved in more and more aspects of our lives,” said Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a progressive organization that is critical of big tech. “And when Apple becomes indispensable, it’s really too big to fail.”

While iPhone users can already save digital copies of their credit cards and shop with Apple’s wallet app, some see the digital ID as a bridge that invites more monitoring and data tracking. ‘

Elizabeth Renieris, a Standard University scholar studying digital identification systems, said the feature may be easy to use and save time. These conveniences come at a price, however: turning every case we show our ID into a business opportunity.

“The leaner these credentials are, the more they are embedded in things that we are always attached to, like a mobile device that we take with us everywhere, the more incentive there is to introduce identity requirements in contexts in which they have never existed before have. ”said. “We’re taking a risk where we’re in a situation where we always have to identify ourselves, and that creates some perverse incentives.”

Renieris said a for-profit company like Apple will treat IDs as a way to make money, perhaps someday to pay transaction fees like Apple does for purchases made through Apple Wallet.

Apple has not yet publicly announced its planned business model for Apple ID.

Michael Veale, a technology policy professor at University College London, said the feature will make iPhone users even more dependent on Apple for their daily lives.

“We’re really opening Pandora’s box by allowing people to prove things about themselves from the intimate inside of their phone,” Veale said. “But that’s what Apple wants: to shape the way people communicate, collaborate, discuss, buy and sell, and now people’s identities. Apple wants all of this in their jurisdiction.”

An Apple spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions about whether the digital ID feature could be used for tracking or making money for the company. Instead, she referred to an announcement that the ID cards are encrypted and “securely stored” on iPhones.

‘What if Apple messes something up?’

About a dozen states and the federal government are already investigating ways to digitize official IDs, although experts say Apple’s involvement is raising new concerns.

For Aram Sinnreich, a professor at the American University in Washington who studies technology, this is one more reason why Congress should pass legislation restricting the use of online data by businesses.

While some states, including California and Virginia, have privacy laws in place, the US has no national law protecting Americans online information.

States argue over how our data is tracked and sold online while Congress stagnates

“If there are no regulations that hold Apple accountable, then nothing prevents them from monitoring us,” said Sinnreich.

Proponents of digital IDs disagree that technologies like cryptography allow authorities to verify a digital identity on a mobile phone while maintaining the person’s identity. Still, some civil rights groups remain vigilant.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently released a report highlighting the potential consequences of mobile IDs, including increased prosecution and possible abuse by law enforcement agencies.

“With questionable mobile device searches rampant, legal protection from such searches – which is already needed – becomes even more important if people’s smartphones are to become a central and routine part of interaction with law enforcement,” it said Report.

Smartphone accessibility is another problem as studies show that 40% of people over 65 and about 25% of people on less than $ 30,000 don’t own a smartphone. According to the ACLU report, if there were ever a legal requirement for a digital ID, it could “further penalize marginalized communities”.

Another fear among privacy experts: what if Apple’s million dollar driver’s licenses become a potential bait for malicious hackers?

Sinnreich admits that Apple has a solid safety record. But data protection systems can fail, he says.

“What if Apple messes something up? What if there is a major security breach and 100 million people’s information is leaked? ”He said. “We are stuck with this partner who has broken our trust and we have no legal apparatus to hold him accountable or to part with him.”

Editor’s note: Apple is one of NPR’s financial backers.