Apple today announced that eight US states will soon allow citizens to host their official digital state identifications and driver’s licenses in their Apple Wallets. This is going to be incredibly convenient, it’ll speed up numerous services, and it really freaking sucks for democracy and personal privacy.
Here’s why, in a nutshell: it’s giving law enforcement a clear and defensible point from which to compel you to unlock your phone. One that will sound good to juries and give prosecutors who like to pretend the Fifth Amendment doesn’t exist a leg to stand on.
Sir, I just need to see your driver’s license. I need you to unlock your phone and pull your documents up and then hand it to me so that I can scan it back in my cruiser.
The Apple announcement is very clear to point out uses cases where users will not have to hand their devices over to anyone.
Per the press release:
Driver’s licenses and state IDs in Wallet are only presented digitally through encrypted communication directly between the device and the identity reader, so users do not need to unlock, show, or hand over their device.
This sounds good on paper. It’s not. And that should be obvious.
But I can practically feel the rage of a billion Apple users building to a fever pitch, and I’d like to preempt a few questions.
“Can’t you read? It says right there that you don’t have to hand your phone over to anyone.”
Police officers in the US use unauthorized trials of Palantir and Clearview AI software to conduct digital stop and frisks, spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in payouts to the victims of police misconduct, carry qualified immunity from civil and criminal suits, and have been caught numerous times attempting to illegally coerce citizens into unlocking and handing over their phones.
If you trust every police officer in the US, you have nothing to worry about.
“So just use your physical ID for the police and your Apple Wallet ID for other stuff.”
If you go around using your digital ID in stores (and on camera) and your physical one with police, law enforcement will be able to argue they need to see your phone to verify the digital ID you used in stores against the one you’re carrying.
There are a million ways cops can coerce a person to unlock their phones and hand them over. The problem with storing your ID on them, as mentioned before, is that it gives them a reason that may sound very legitimate when a jury hears it, but ultimately should fail the same Fifth Amendment tests that previous attempts to force US citizens and the Apple corporation into unlocking iPhones did.
It’s very convenient for you to whip out your phone, press it against a scanner, and have a TSA agent in an airport wave you through.
It’s very inconvenient when a police officer uses that convenience to coerce a scared citizen into unlocking and handing over their device.
The more people who choose the convenience, despite the danger, the more normalized the concept will be. And that’s when services and utilities will begin popping up that reward citizens for using digital IDs over physical ones.
This is called stratification, and it’s already a huge problem in US government services.
“You don’t have to use it, Apple’s just giving those of us who want to the option.”
That’s not a good thing. Just like we needed net neutrality to ensure that TELCOM companies don’t create fast-lanes to the internet for their products and slow-lanes for their competitors, it’s crucial to the future of democracy that we don’t allow the government and big tech to create fast-lanes.
Especially when they’re specifically engineered for people who are privileged enough to both own an iPhone and not give a shit about the implications of carrying their IDs in the same place as all the data they generate.
Simply put, it would be a statistical anomaly of universe-altering proportions if US police don’t use this to compel iPhone users to unlock and hand over their devices.
If you’re okay with that, this feature was definitely designed to appeal to you.
H/t: The Verge