Legislation creating virtual driver licenses is now in the fast lane toward a vote in Utah Senate

The Senate transportation committee gave a green light to SB88, the digital license bill, on Thursday.

(Photo courtesy Utah Department of Public Safety) The Utah Department of Public Safety is set to soon launch a new pilot project that will explore the use of digital driver’s licenses, or a state identification card that can be stored on your phone. The Drivers License Division says mobile identification cards could be more convenient and offer Utahns more privacy.

Three years in the making, Utah’s digital driver’s license bill received the green light in committee during the first week of Utah’s 2022 general session.

Sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, SB88 received unanimous support from the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee on Thursday and moves to the Senate with the senator’s favorable recommendation.

The bill would make permanent a program allowing Utahns to use a virtual driver’s license instead of a physical one. Rather than being kept in a wallet, the electronic license would be on a driver’s smartphone.

“[The digital driver’s license] actually protects your information in a more robust manner than actually showing a piece of paper,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who was part of a pilot program that launched last year. “So I think this is a really great bill. I’ve actually tried the product, and I support it.”

First proposed in 2019, the bill has been the target of numerous questions regarding privacy measures and data collection policies. Fillmore addressed some of those lingering concerns during the committee hearing.

Participation in the program is voluntary, he said, and physical licenses would still be available for those who prefer an actual driver’s card.

Does Utah’s Driver License Division intend to store people’s information?

“No plans,” Filmore explained. “Utah law already forbids the Department of Public Safety to store any data ... Utah has some of the strongest individual privacy laws of any state in the country, and those would apply here as well.”

The bill also ensures that digital licenses would operate under the exact privacy standards that currently exist for paper licenses.

Fillmore went on to address some of the advantages that virtual licenses would offer over traditional ones — beyond saving space in Utahns’ wallets.

“When you show your driver’s license to someone, you’re showing them your driver’s license number, your height, your weight,” he said. “… With the digital driver’s license, instead of showing all the information, you simply show a QR code.”

If a person were attempting to buy liquor, for example, their QR code would verify they were over the age of 21 without showing the rest of their personal information, he said.

The same procedure would also work for proving one’s identity or address. This measure ensures that private entities, in addition to the Department of Public Safety, will not have access to all of an individual’s personal information when only identification is needed.

While the committee members were satisfied after the quick round of questioning, several members of the public spoke about their concerns.

One woman, referring to a 2019 audit of the Department of Public Safety, voiced concern over the agency’s track record involving data sharing and lack of auditing.

Committee member Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who is the former chair of the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said the legislature corrected many of that audit’s findings and gave the entire system a “rather significant facelift for security reasons.”

On Dec. 31, Reps. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, discussed the digital license program on their podcast, “The Common Cause,” with a woman billed as “Salty Annie.”

“Annie” listed several conspiracy theories involving the U.N. as the reason that groups are advocating for the legislation, while the Utah lawmakers did not push back against her claims.

But the conspiratorial allegations didn’t hold the committee’s decision Thursday. The bill passed the committee with unanimous approval.