Southeastern Alumni Develop the Nation’s First Legal Digital Driver’s License
The driver’s license has been an indispensable part of many Americans’ lives for decades. But while its components have evolved over time and between states, at its core it has essentially remained the same—a physical piece of identification. Now, well over 100 years after the first personal driver’s license was issued on a simple, small piece of paper, the State of Louisiana and one local Southeastern alumni-led company have begun ushering in the second phase of the driver’s license by pioneering the arguably inevitable digital future of personal identification.
In 1903, the year that the Wright Brothers took to the sky at Kitty Hawk and only five years before Henry Ford’s iconic Model T was unleashed on the world, Massachusetts and Missouri began issuing the first required non-commercial automobile driving licenses. Americans were on the move, and state regulations had begun trying to keep up.
Over the next 51 years, possessing a driver’s license became a requirement in every state for those getting behind the wheel. Louisiana adopted this policy in 1946. Photographs were added to non-commercial driver’s licenses for the first time in the US one year later, and by the mid-1980s the incorporation of anti-counterfeit devices on state IDs was becoming standard.
But these advancements have now fallen behind where we are today: a world where a continually increasing majority of people turn to tiny, illuminated screens to discover current news, learn, be entertained, keep up with their mail, and connect with others. Love it or hate it, using mobile technology for all the information you need while on the go, and then some, is the new norm.
Two years ago, the State of Louisiana addressed this need to meet citizens where they are by passing House Bill 481, a legislation championed by Representative Ted James. Louisiana had officially become the first state in the nation to legislatively approve acceptance of a digital driver’s license, leading the way for the next chapter in the story of the American driver’s license.
But then there was a new challenge—actually creating it. After thoroughly assessing proposals from various companies, Louisiana chose the well-developed, creative approach offered by Southeastern alumnus Calvin Fabre and his company Envoc.
Fabre, along with his all Southeastern alumni Envoc team of six developers and a group of 10 state employees, met the challenge by creating a user-friendly and secure app for both iOS and android devices—an app that also meets a myriad of legal requirements for acceptance by State Police and other agencies. They named it LA Wallet.
Achieving this, though, was certainly not without obstacles. “The most challenging part of the project is always a commitment to ongoing privacy and diligence,” said Fabre. The user’s safety and security were indeed of primary concern when developing the app, which is not only secure but also contains anti-forgery precautions and carries a no-touch policy.
“State Police asked for a no-touch solution,” said Fabre. “This means that when showing your digital ID to an officer or anyone else, you will never have to allow them to touch your phone, let alone hand it over.”
To combat fraud and prove that it is a valid license, there are two simple methods the driver can utilize. The first one is to hit the refresh button, which connects the app with the Office of Motor Vehicles, resending the information to the device and proving that the license is still valid. The second method is interactive with the user. When a user presses the rendering of their driver’s license in the app, the seal for the State of Louisiana pops up—effectively demonstrating that the license is real and not a screenshot.
The image of the license itself is not a direct capture of a physical driver’s license either. Information is pulled directly from the Office of Motor Vehicles and reassembled to create a high-resolution digital rendering. As Fabre explained, the result is “a unique image generated by our servers, that only our servers can create. And it is a unique image that leverages all of the anti-forgery, anti-tamper-proof techniques that the state has developed.”
While the image on the “front” of the license will still be familiar to people though, the “back” looks somewhat different. This screen contains additional information such as endorsements. To further aid the no-touch policy, the bearer’s license number appears in a large font on this side for better readability at a distance.
The beauty with which all of these new technological and identity challenges were overcome is perhaps only overshadowed by the truly collaborative effort involved. According to Fabre, “Public Safety, State Police, state attorneys, and technology all got in one room and all worked together to find something that’s going to best serve the citizens, and they were genuinely wanting to serve the citizens. It’s a great application of many disciplines that don’t normally get together. That’s diversity.”
And this product of Louisiana’s insightful vision, Envoc’s technological innovation, and the harmonious collaboration between state and private—between various backgrounds and specialties with one common purpose—has now truly made history. In early July, the final app store approvals were granted and the product officially launched to the public.
Its prospects extend even further—far beyond acceptance by State Police, and most likely beyond Louisiana. According to Act 625, all parish and municipality police officers in Louisiana are also legally authorized to take LA Wallet for identification purposes, and the establishment of state-wide acceptance procedures and training is currently underway.
Envoc has additionally worked closely with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and has met their requirements by completing requested modifications to the app. This summer, the digital license officially became a part of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control’s responsible vendor program. With this agency’s approval obtained, LA Wallet is now valid for the purchase of alcohol and other restricted products sold at Louisiana retailers, including bars, restaurants, and stores. However, since the app is quite new and businesses are still implementing it into their procedures, for now it’s a good idea to also carry along your old driver’s license before heading to your local watering hole or picking up a six-pack.
From library cards to school IDs, this new technology has a potentially bright future aside from the driver’s license as well—with further applications that Fabre is passionate about one day bringing to life. “Think of the possibilities of allowing a college to have an extension of the digital driver’s license on their phone,” he said.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by other states, either. One undisclosed northern state has already reached out to Envoc, expressing interest in following the path now being blazed in Louisiana. As the download numbers keep going up, an increase in other states looking to Louisiana will likely closely follow.
And there’s plenty of reason it should. Fabre said that while we may not have always received national coverage on it, “Louisiana is very forward thinking in this and other areas related to serving its citizens through technology. We are the Silicon Bayou.”
Anyone with a current Louisiana driver’s license can now download the app for both Android and iPhone. The app can immediately be used for identification with Louisiana State Police, with the other uses to evolve in the very near future. The app itself is free, but an in-app purchase is required to initially activate and then to renew the license when it expires, similar to paying for a new physical driver’s license.
While you shouldn’t plan on tossing out your current Louisiana ID just yet, it’s quite possible that time may soon come. The first paper driver’s license was created to keep up with people more on the move as a result of the day’s increasing acceptance of and reliance on industrial technology. Americans today are still on the move, perhaps more than ever; but we have also collectively embraced a whole new concept of being mobile—and a whole new era of technology. Louisiana, along with Envoc’s Southeastern alumni-led team, has now crossed the threshold of being the first state to fully join its citizens in this digital era. The next chapter in the story of the American driver’s license has begun, and Louisiana citizens can now be among the first to help it unfold.
By Sheri Gibson