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With so many people losing wallets and physical, plastic pieces of ID cards, drivers licenses, etc., why haven't we moved on to fully digitized ID in the digital world? We have made money almost indefinitely digital -- at least non-physical (most people have banks, PayPal, or other forms of electronic payments in which carrying cash is unneeded); however, we're still lugging around plastic molds with pics on them.

If we digitized IDs, wouldn't that be better for the environment too? An ID could be verified by a government server or private sector/database digitally and you can use extensive security/encryption/password protection schemes to conceal a photo of you, your address, license number, etc.

When police stop you, just load up a walled-garden app on your smartphone, tablet, etc., and they'll be able to verify your ID, and check your records with it too; they won't be able to see anything else/do anything else on your device though. This is secure, stable, and way more efficient. If you lose your device, you never lose your ID though, because its information is always secure remotely.

If you don't have a digital device on you and can't be verified, a cop can provide one/access your records anyways by asking you a secret code or key to decrypt your records too. This should also make identity theft enter a whole different ballpark too, as nobody can find out your name/info/etc. as easily.

The same measures can apply for all other plastic cards that carry sensitive information around too.

closed as primarily opinion-based by schroeder, Lucas Kauffman, Mark, Xander, cpast May 8 '15 at 22:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • This might be a little broad and opinion-based. How would you get into bars? How would you combat counterfeiting? Would you really want to trust/rely on a functioning government server to verify your id just to get a store membership and discount at the cashier? – schroeder May 8 '15 at 20:22
  • Some ID cards already are smartcards with a private key+certificate on them that can be used to log into government websites and digitally sign documents. – user42178 May 8 '15 at 21:05
  • @schroeder Answer to all of your questions: digital ID. – Purpose Bunny May 8 '15 at 22:17
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    @PurposeBunny I see your proposed idea, but there are large gaps in it. Your focus is on your interactions with the government, but it is not just the government that needs your ID. How does the bouncer at the bar determine what your age is? Logistically? – schroeder May 8 '15 at 22:40
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    What happens when you go from California to Maine and the cops in Maine don't have the special software for a California ID? – cpast May 8 '15 at 22:50
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There are many reasons behind why we're still carrying around plastic. It's easy and cheap to issue a plastic ID card and verify the owner with a simple picture. Not everyone owns a smartphone, so requiring one in order to be a citizen would be impractical. Also, the government is very large and governs a large number of people. Things tend to run pretty slow up there.

Still, there is a degree of electronic information associated with the cards. At least in my location (MI/US), people can swipe your government ID to verify the information on the card. Police can use also your ID # to check your information on their systems (impressive too if you get pulled over without ID). Some ID cards also contain RFID chips as well. Additionally, social security numbers already function as a super-secret way to verify your identity.

With a transfer to a fully digitized system, its important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the system. Computers sure aren't perfect, what if the network connection is faulty, or the servers are having issues? How would you verify someone's identity? How would this give you an advantage versus an ID with physical features like images that only glow under blacklight and a simple picture? Is the information on a license really sensitive enough to need to be protected underneath a layer of sophisticated technology?

  • Excuses. Why not play Pokemon using punchcards still? – Purpose Bunny May 8 '15 at 22:19
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    @PurposeBunny Ah, so your post isn't a question, but an assertion that you want people to agree with. – schroeder May 8 '15 at 22:42
  • @schroeder It seems you catch on quickly. – Purpose Bunny May 9 '15 at 5:58
  • @PurposeBunny in that case, same reason no reasonable person wants digital voting, because it's insanely unsafe and not properly verifiable by the average layman – Frank Hopkins Apr 16 at 21:02
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This is already happening, at least in the US, cops can look up your info based on your license plate number and social security number if you have no other id / insurance / registration cards on you.

I believe by 2030 everything will be digitized and cards will no longer be necessary or there will be one smart card to rule them all that is also your phone / computer / passport / id / credit card etc.

The reason why it isn't happening sooner is because of the lock-in of the current system and way of doing things that is tied to whole industries of jobs and infrastructure. Think of all the companies that make ID cards. Think of all the government buildings employing people to stamp, sign, verify, and review paper applications. Think of the built-in slowness of these processes and think of how you would fix them. Too many moving parts for things to happen too quickly beyond a snail's pace.

  • While I agree that many corporations and governments (not just the US) are adopting digital IDs, "I believe by 2030 everything will be digitized" seems oddly specific. Can you link to where you read that? – Mike Ounsworth May 8 '15 at 20:25
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    Cops being able to look you up without an ID is not even remotely new. – cpast May 8 '15 at 23:03
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There are many reasons though the biggest ones maybe be that DMV commissioners and citizens are highly resistant to change in this area.

DMV commissioners like to stick with what they know works. Other organizations, such as banks, exhibit similar conservatism but they have large budgets and market pressure to advance their technology. DMVs don't have either.

Citizens are definitely freaked out by the digital ID. To a large extent I think this is ignorance as they don't realize how much information the DMV already stores online.

There are also huge procedural challenges to deal with. Citizens don't want to hand their mobile over to anyone, walled garden or not. Nor do they want to turn over encryption keys to police officers. Besides complexities of dealing with a police officer, IDs are also checked at the pharmacy, at the supermarket when you pay with a check, when you enter federal buildings, at bars, etc... And voter ID laws are already viewed as discriminating against the poor and uneducated. Digital IDs will only make the problem worse. If we start talking internationally, the problem becomes almost insurmountable. It will be a long time before Liberia or Suriname can afford widespread digital ID validation.

I think what is likely is that US states will move to more digital and eventually all digital ID (eg: Delaware's plans). But federally it will be a long time before the international community is ready. Hybrid IDs such as the US's physical/electronic passport will be here for decades.

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Here's how this would go down:

You'd need to type a password into your smartphone every time you wanted to "unlock" the ID (otherwise they'd be too easy to steal).

People are lazy, so they'd choose dumb 4-character passwords, which they would then write down on pieces of paper in their wallets and BAM: identity theft is easier than ever!

At that point why bother even having IDs? Nobody will trust them anyway.

Also, the the sheer number of people who would forget the password to their passport would make the whole system unusable.

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