‘Mark of the beast’ and fears of concentration camps upend hearing on bill to expand Utah’s digital driver license program

Lawmakers did not take a vote on the bill during a committee hearing Monday.

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) Ryan Williams, with the Utah Driver License Division, displays his cellphone with the pilot version of the state's mobile ID on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in West Valley City. The card that millions of people use to prove their identity to everyone from police officers to liquor store owners may soon be a thing of the past as a growing number of states develop digital driver's licenses.

Members of the public warned a Utah House committee Monday evening that a bill to expand Utah’s use of digital driver licenses was the first step on a slippery slope that could lead to vaccination passports, tyranny imposed by the United Nations or concentration camps. There was even a dire warning that digital driver licenses were “the mark of the beast.”

The House Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee adjourned without taking action on SB88, which aims to move the use beyond the current pilot program which allows people to carry a copy of their driver license on their smartphones.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, explained the digital version of the driver license is a more secure version of the card most people already carry in their pocket.

“If you ever lose your driver’s license, anybody who picks it up has access to all the information on there. If you lose your phone, you can have any information wiped remotely,” Fillmore said.

He added the digital ID also adds a convenience factor. If your phone is lost, you can call and have them turn off the ID on your old phone and activate the new one without ever having to visit the DMV.

Ryan Williams with the Utah Driver License Division tried to settle any worries the digital license would lead to personal information being stolen. The app produces a QR code that, when scanned, connects to the state database. That code is only used one time.

“When you present that QR code, you’re not presenting your information. You can’t share the QR code with anybody. If I lose my physical license and it’s picked up by somebody, they have all of that information in their hand,” Williams said.

Those assurances were not good enough for the packed room of opponents who had to be scolded several times after vocal outbursts.

Much of the public comment was a panoply of overheated conspiracy theories and worries that Utah’s use of the digital licenses was simply the first step on the road to tyranny. Many were fueled by misinformation shared on right-wing social media apps that, ironically, many used their smartphones to access.

There were some legitimate concerns that personal data could be exposed in a breach of the state driver license database. Former Weber County Commissioner Bruce Anderson said there’s nothing in the bill to compensate Utahns if that happens.

“If there’s a breach, it causes irreparable harm. Passing this legislation would be completely irresponsible,” Anderson said.

Those worries were vastly outnumbered by comments straight out of the political fringes.

Some worried their personal information would find its way into the hands of outside groups or international organizations like the United Nations, who allegedly have sinister designs on the state’s people.

“We are here because we are angry,” said Malia Colvard. “We hear you lying to us every day. Stop it! Vote no on this.”

Mike Brown said the digital driver license is the forebearer of discriminating against the unvaccinated.

“Vaccine passports are everywhere. Show your papers. Hello, is this America or not? How dare you propose something that on the path to take away our liberty,” Brown said.

Commenters also made religious comparisons and references to the Holocaust.

“This feels like you’re moving one step closer to the mark of the beast. The Book of Revelations states we will not be able to buy or sell goods without the mark of the beast.” Shelly Rich said.

“Everything about a digital driver’s license brings wrong and evil. It’s just a straight path to a train ride to concentration camps,” Karen Layton warned.

After adopting two amendments in response to some objections — clarifying participation was voluntary and app users could not be tracked — the committee adjourned without taking a vote.

That doesn’t mean the bill is dead by any stretch of the imagination. SB88 could show up on a committee agenda again, or the House could bring the bill directly to the floor for a vote. The latter scenario is a distinct possibility since the proposal flew through the Senate unanimously.