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Mobile driver’s license adoption represents win for TSA

The agency is taking the lead to help Americans
Mobile driver’s license adoption represents win for TSA

By Neville Pattinson, Head of Federal Government Sales at Thales Group’s DIS Identity & Biometric Solutions

States in the U.S. have begun issuing digital IDs in the form of mobile driver’s licenses, and the first place where many Americans see a benefit from these new credentials is at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is often criticized for the slow pace of airport processes, and the long delays experienced by many travellers. The TSA is an early adopter of mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), however, which hold significant promise for reducing how long security checks take, and therefore the lineups of people waiting to go through them.

Americans average close to an hour waiting in TSA lineups during peak hours at the nation’s busiest airports, based on an analysis of the agency’s own statistics.

TSA is not only rolling out new technology to make use of mDLs as more states launch them, it, and the Department of Homeland Services more broadly, is actively working on faster ways to get people through the necessary security checks. Those efforts are starting to bear fruit.

What the TSA is doing

The TSA is leading the adoption of digital credentials to automate most security checks. Digital travel credentials can be processed in as little time as it takes people to make a payment with their smartphone. As holding out your phone to complete an interaction becomes more familiar, the TSA is rolling out a new version of its Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) scanners to airports across the country so they can accept digital credentials.

Most of those digital credentials that Americans have today are mDLs issued by state motor vehicle authorities. The American Airlines Mobile ID, created in collaboration with Thales and Airside, is based on the same technologies and is equivalent to a state-issued mDL for TSA security check purposes.

Both make use of the ISO/IEC 18013-5 standard, which extends the global standard for driver’s licenses to digital credentials held on a mobile device. The use of this standard by all digital ID credentials provides a common basis on which TSA can accept any of them at any airport equipped with the new CAT II scanners, and rapidly scale the system to cover the entire U.S.

mDL acceptance at TSA security checkpoints will be in conjunction with TSA rolling out the new CAT technology supporting digital credentials over the next year or so. For now, travellers must be enrolled in TSA PreCheck to use their digital ID for security checks.

Similar efforts in other countries also means that Americans will soon be able to use their digital IDs in overseas airports, and vice versa.

How it helps

The new security check process consists of all the same steps from a security perspective. How the steps are carried out is changed and automated, however, so that they may appear instantaneous or invisible to the traveller.

On approaching a TSA checkpoint, the traveller presents a QR code on their mobile device and has a photo taken. The ID and photo images are matched, along with flight and other information, and the passenger is cleared. This typically happens in less than five seconds, according to American’s assessments.

In addition to the speed of the check itself, the TSA is scanning mobile IDs at dedicated lanes. That means if you are eligible for a mobile ID, you have the option of a line that is often the shortest available.

The privacy of travellers’ data is protected in several ways. All data from the ID is transmitted and stored in encrypted form, and deleted by TSA after it is verified to protect against potential data breaches. Less data is presented to TSA agents, and the device itself stays in the hands of the traveler.

Device-based security measures, like Face ID or Touch ID biometrics on Apple devices, can also help prevent someone else from viewing or presenting your digital ID, even if your phone is stolen.

The same technology has also been used already by travellers in trials to access lounges and complete self-bag drop processes.

What comes next

There are currently only eight states issuing mDLs on a production basis, though roughly as many are actively working towards launches.

That means the American Airlines Mobile ID is the only way for most Americans with U.S. Passports or U.S. Drivers licenses from forty-one participating states to take advantage of the new airport fast-lanes right now.

As the technology reaches more airports, and more states issue mDLs, further adoption by state governments, such as for access to online public services, and by the private sector, such as for age verification or KYC checks, will motivate people to get their own.

Both age verification and KYC checks are becoming more common, too. Several states, including Arkansas, Virginia, Louisiana and Texas have all passed age verification requirements for accessing adult content. The same limited disclosure and other privacy protections used at the airport could enable residents of those states to access websites without exposing their personal data.

In the meantime, Americans using digital IDs in airports will often make it through screening process faster than their fellow travellers, thanks to some forward-looking decisions by the TSA.

About the author

Neville Pattinson is the Head of Federal Government Sales at Thales Group’s DIS Identity & Biometric Solutions team based in Austin, TX. Pattinson is a leading expert and thought leader on digital identity solutions such as smart cards, electronic passports, various biometric technologies and mobile digital identity to keep identity credentials secure, private and trusted.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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