Apple says it is working with states to digitize government-issued IDs. The announcement has privacy advocates on edge.



Do you, like me, lose your driver's license all the time? Apple says don't worry about your wallet. It's in your iPhone. Privacy advocates are alarmed by this feature. Here's NPR's Bobby Allyn. And before he starts, know that Apple is one of NPR's financial supporters.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: People already pay for coffee and train rides using their iPhones. But Apple says why stop there?


JENNIFER BAILEY: To be fully free of your physical wallet, there's one more thing we need to bring to iPhone, and that's your ID.

ALLYN: Apple executive Jennifer Bailey is speaking on a slick video, talking as she walks through the company's Cupertino headquarters. It was produced for Apple's annual developers conference.


BAILEY: This fall, you'll just scan your driver's license or state ID in participating U.S. states. It's that easy. Your ID information is now in Wallet.

ALLYN: So now you can store a digital copy of your driver's license on your iPhone, and it'll be seen as legitimate proof of ID. Apple says soon you'll be able to flash it to a TSA agent at an airport and move faster through a security check. The company says it's all about making life easier for everyone. OK. But should state-issued IDs really be stored on our iPhones at all? A growing chorus of privacy experts and advocates don't think so.

EVAN GREER: This just strikes me as the latest example of where they're kind of trying to weave themselves into more and more aspects of our lives.

ALLYN: Evan Greer is the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future.

GREER: And when Apple becomes kind of indispensable, it truly is too big to fail.

ALLYN: And it isn't just the critics of big tech raising concerns. Elizabeth Renieris is a fellow at Stanford who studies these type of ID systems.

ELIZABETH RENIERIS: The more the kind of sleeker these credentials are, the more they're embedded into things that we're always, you know, attached to, like a mobile device, which we take everywhere, the more there's kind of this incentive to introduce identity requirements in contexts where it never existed before.

ALLYN: Meaning every time we use the digital ID, we could be creating another way to be tracked. And Apple, she says, could eventually sell this data to advertisers. Apple, which touts its privacy-first philosophy, wouldn't comment on whether this would ever happen. But to Aram Sinnreich, this is yet another reason why Congress should pass a law restricting how tech companies can use our online data. He studies online privacy at American University in Washington.

ARAM SINNREICH: If there is no regulation holding Apple accountable, then there's nothing stopping them from surveilling us and using them as an element of the broader marketing infrastructure.

ALLYN: And though Apple has made assurances about how safe the IDs will be, Sinnreich says there is still risk involved in linking a sensitive document to our phones.

SINNREICH: What happens when Apple messes up? What happens when there is a large security breach and 100 million people's information gets leaked?

ALLYN: Apple is not worried. It says when it stores our IDs on our phones, they will be encrypted and therefore safe. Renieris says Apple does have a good history with security, but there is something it's not talking about when it comes to its digital ID.

RENIERIS: They have staked their reputation on privacy, but I think they need to be more transparent about the business model about how they make money off of this.

ALLYN: Also available in Apple's forthcoming operating system - the ability to open office, home and hotel doors with an iPhone. Will opening your door become a moneymaker for Apple? Renieris says they can find a way.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARLEY CARROLL'S "FIREFLIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.