Delivering digital licences: Lessons from around the world

By Emma Gawen

Emma Gawen compares models from across the world, and picks out what works.

It’s been a little over a month since the Government of Argentina announced a new digital driving licence, created from scratch in just 65 days. They were able to move so quickly as the government had already set up a platform to build on: MiArgentina; and they’ve used open standards, APIs, and user centred design to deliver a licence at speed.

They aren’t the only ones moving in this direction. Offering an alternative to plastic or paper licences can be more convenient for users, allow authorities to check on penalty points or driving restrictions in real time, and save considerable sums of money: in Argentina the new licence is estimated to save at least $15 million dollars a year.

So how have different governments approached the roll out? Here’s a comparative look at some of the strengths in Argentina, India, the State of Louisiana in the USA (through the LA Wallet), and New South Wales (NSW) in Australia.

Delivering trust in digital driving licences

Digital licences are commonly delivered through an app, as this gives authorities more control and ability to add security and anti-fraud measures than through a browser.

To counter people using images of a licence which could be easily falsified, authorities use QR codes or bar codes as a way to validate credentials.These can be read and checked by the authorities that need to, and are valid for a limited period of time to counter fraud. NSW and Louisiana have also chosen to include visual validation, using holograms and watermarks in addition to the QR code.

Argentina offers the longest validity of 24 hours, to allow for citizens driving in parts of the country with limited connectivity, while NSW opts to present the last time the information was refreshed instead.

In Louisiana and NSW the digital driving licence can also be used for age verification. To protect privacy, they give the option to only show ‘I’m 21’, without displaying a birthdate, or the address that would usually be on a licence. This way to share an individual attribute, rather than personal data, is a positive way of protecting privacy.

Building on platforms

In Argentina, the team were able to move so quickly as the government had already set up a platform to build on: MiArgentina. It aims to be a personalised entrance to procedures and services from the state. It’s accessible online, or through iOS and Android phones.

Citizens who renew their National Identity Document (DNI) are given a validated digital identity on MiArgentina, which will build adoption of the platform over time. The MiArgentina team are gradually incorporating new digital versions of credentials on MiArgentina, allowing a move away from physical or offline versions. In turn, new services can easily call on these digital credentials through MiArgentina, building the utility of the platform and its ecosystem.

India too have used an existing platform, Digilocker, but one originally intended for document sharing. It’s worked as a way to get adoption, and is tied to India’s digital identity (Aadhaar), but doesn’t have the same checks and balances.

NSW similarly have added the digital driving licence to an existing Service NSW app which already offered other digital licences: for example, for fishing, gambling and the service of alcohol. Apart from the app, their website is more of a traditional information portal model from where it directs users to individual department websites. This is unlike Argentina’s, which is a single connected platform pushing services from across the government to users.

The State of Louisiana is just one of a number of US States developing digital driving licences, but this is one of the first implementations, and it also offers a different operational and commercial example.

The brand, LA Wallet, and digital licence solution, is owned by a vendor, Envoc. As a reward for building and developing the service and integrating with State authorities, the vendors take a USD 5.99 fee through the app. While this saves the State money in the short term (a digital licence at very low cost), it’s less strategic. The State is either locked-in to the one vendor, or they’d need to start again from scratch. If you consider a future where a digital licence will become the default, then in the long term the State needs greater ownership of what will be a core part of their service.

The law comes first

In the State of Louisiana the law came first by almost 2 years: the legislation to allow this to happen was passed in 2016. What sets it apart is specific safeguards in the law which aim to protect user privacy. The law includes a “no touch” policy which explicitly rules out consent for law enforcement to search or view any other data or application on the device.

In Argentina, they moved quickly to change the law: a digital licence now has the same legality as the physical. But, what’s good to see is that the law and delivery has happened hand in hand: it was informed by the research and implementation that was happening at the same time.

The UK is a good example of where delivery and the law haven’t progressed together in this way. A QR code enabled service is available to check information on a driving licence, but it’s not legally valid as a replacement for a physical card.

We’ve got some catching up to do

The best in the race so far is Argentina: they are user led, quick, strategic, and they’ve got a modern tech-stack to swiftly build from Let’s take for comparison, Denmark. Currently ranked 1st in the world in the UN e-Government survey, they have many advantages including a mandatory digital identity (NemID), high connectivity and high digital literacy. Yet, a recent Ministerial announcement of a digital driving licence suggested the app would be ready in 2020.
Time to get going.

Emma Gawen is a Partner at Public Digital, and has worked as as a senior civil servant across IT and digital in the UK and New Zealand governments, advising ministers and senior officials on digital delivery. She curates the Public Digital newsletter, a fortnightly scan about how governments and other large institutions are adapting to the internet era.