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California couldn’t find the right vendor, so it bootstrapped its mDL

SpruceID supplies digital wallet
California couldn’t find the right vendor, so it bootstrapped its mDL
 

In the forever war between build and buy, build largely won in the state of California when elected leaders decided to get serious about mobile identity.

Trade publication Government Technology pulled together a webinar on some lessons learned during California’s race to create a first-of-its-kind state mobile wallet and driver’s license.

Technology consultancy Gartner this week gave the project its 2023 Innovation Award for Government.

Speaking were Ajay Gupta, digital transformation officer with the state’s department of motor vehicles and Wayne Chang, CEO of data-security vendor SpruceID, which built the wallet and digital ID service. The mDL uses iProov’s face biometrics and liveness detection to bind the individual to the credential.

During the discussion, which covered a lot of ground and deserves a viewing, Gupta says the state was motivated to build a decentralized system for several reasons.

It wanted a quick-to-launch, voluntary, multi-standard service that reflected state’s priorities on citizens’ privacy and minimum bias.

There are few mobile ID products suitable for a state’s unique needs to begin with, says Gupta. And even if there was a product or service that ticked all the critical boxes, there was an aversion to getting too tied up with a vendor.

“It’s a very tactical market at this time,” Gupta says, and standards are evolving, conditions that favor software development in closer collaboration than other situations.

There’s also the question of biased code. Vendors do not often let anyone look at their algorithms or their performance scores, which holds a buyer hostage to potential problems they can’t anticipate.

The state also wanted to develop and operate the mobile ID service in a way that engenders trust among citizens, and building largely inhouse allows for greater transparency, he says. Being open source, the service is more open to privacy advocates.

Chang says the state wanted to take advantage of whatever positives people felt about carrying a physical card, including the fact that it is not tracked every time someone uses it to identify themselves.

“You use it and get on with it, and it doesn’t create surveillance,” he says. The state could set policies for places where no one is notified about any details of a purchase.

Gupta says adherence to multiple standards is expected to help the service take off. More software can work with a multi-standard ID and the ID becomes more accepted in and out of the state.

SpruceID recently hosted an interoperability event for mDLs that included participation from Okta, Samsung, NIST and others.

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