Google Wallet on Android is finally getting ready for your digital driver’s license and other US state IDs. Google says the feature is rolling out this month, and it will slowly start bringing states online this year. Of course, your state has to be one of the few that actually supports digital IDs. Google says Maryland residents can use the feature right now and that “in the coming months, residents of Arizona, Colorado and Georgia will join them.”
The road to digital driver’s license support has been a long one, with the “Identity Credential API” landing in Android 11 in 2020. Since then, it has technically been possible for states to make their own ID app. Now Google Wallet, Google’s re-re-reboot of its payment app, is providing a first-party way to store an ID on your phone. Some parts of the Identity Credential API landed in Google Play Services (Google’s version-agnostic brick of APIs), so Wallet supports digital IDs going back to Android 8.0, which covers about 90 percent of Android devices.
Maryland has supported Digital IDs on iOS for a while, which gives us an idea of how this will work. An NFC transfer is enough to beam your credentials to someone, where you can just tap against a special NFC ID terminal and confirm the transfer with your fingerprint. Wallet has an NFC option, along with a “Show code” option that will show the traditional driver’s license barcode.
IDs are saved locally on your device, but Google lets you remove them remotely from myaccount.google.com, so if you lose your phone, you can still secure your ID. In the full-fat, Android 11 version of the Identity Credential API, Google supposedly has a “Direct Access” mode that can transfer your ID over NFC even if you don’t have enough power to boot up the phone. Google says that will require special hardware support, though.
Reality has not necessarily caught up to Google’s and Apple’s technical implementations. Just like Apple’s announcement in 2021, Google only mentions the Wallet IDs working at airport TSA check-ins, and the support document notes that “you must still carry your physical ID as needed.” For it to actually replace a driver’s license, police would have to be trained and equipped to accept a digital ID during a traffic stop. Ideally, they would have a portable ID scanner/NFC reader because the alternative of handing over your entire phone to the cops does not sound very appealing. Laws and technology rollouts have to happen individually across all 50 states, so it’s hard to track how far along any of this is. It does not sound like much progress has been made, though. IDScan.net, a company that makes digital ID solutions, currently tracks 12 states as having some kind of active digital ID program and another 11 in a “pilot” program.