Apple digital ID scheme comes with conditions and costs

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Apple’s much promoted digital driver’s licence feature comes at a cost to the taxpayer, according to reports.

Announced in September, it will allow residents in eight US states to store state IDs and driver’s licences inside the Apple Wallet app on their iPhone.

Apple has “sole control” of several aspects of the rollout, CNBC reports.

But Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah “bear the burden of maintaining [the feature], at taxpayer expense”.

Using public-record requests and other means, CNBC acquired details of the agreements between some of those states and Apple:

  • Apple retains control over when the feature is launched and what devices are compatible – but state agencies are responsible for maintaining the relevant computer systems and legal compliance and Apple stipulates how they report on its “performance”
  • State bodies must employ or allocate people and resources to support the project “on a timeline to be determined by Apple” and, if Apple requests, “designate” project managers to answer Apple’s questions
  • The contract requires states to market the new feature – but Apple has review and approval power of those marketing materials
  • The digital ID must be “proactively” offered to every new licence holder or renewal at no extra cost to the person applying
  • States must promote it to agencies such as local law enforcement or anyone else who regularly checks IDs

“The end result is that states bear the burden of maintaining technology systems at taxpayer expense, a move that ultimately benefits Apple and its shareholders by making its devices even more essential than they already are,” CNBC’s report says.

Jason Mikula, a financial technology writer who also obtained the Apple records, wrote the states “have ceded a shocking degree of control to Apple”.

“Beyond giving Apple near total control over the programme, states also agree to terms that make it nearly impossible to terminate the programme in the future,” he said.

According to two memoranda of understanding, “the state agencies that have entered into them can only terminate them with Apple’s consent or for cause – if Apple breaches the terms of the agreement and doesn’t remedy within 30 days”.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

When Apple announced the first details of its ID scheme, it emphasised the encryption and other security features, stressing neither the company nor state officials could know “when or where” users showed IDs.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there was significant public resistance in some countries – including the UK – to the idea of digital Covid passports or other ID, despite the NHS Covid-19 app eventually being widely adopted for that purpose in England.

Civil-liberties concerns also led to the scrapping of a 2019 attempt to introduce a more general digital-ID system in the UK.

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