Everyday carry

The day I tried to replace my wallet with my iPhone

It was an interesting morning.

I had to drive westside for Kumu board meeting (I’m an independent board member there). Per usual, Waze guided me via surface streets rather than the obvious freeway routes.

An LAPD motorcycle cop pulled me over on one of those surface streets (always good for a little adrenaline jolt)… aaaaaand at that moment, I realized I’d left my wallet at home.

Given the potential for getting hassled in this situation, I considered Meerkatting the whole encounter so you could all watch me either get a routine ticket or just possibly get shot, but (to mix animal metaphors) I decided not to poke the bear. You didn’t miss anything.

The officer couldn’t have been more respectful. He took my registration, asked me if my license was up to date, confirmed a few vitals (DOB, etc), and, after a trip back to his bike, sent me on my way with a fixit ticket for not having a front license plate (long story). He gave me a pass on driving without a license and complimented me on my Analog Watch Co. watch. The whole thing took just a few minutes.

Driving off, though, I immediately starting thinking about I was going to get through the rest of the day — a paid parking lot, a lunch date, gas, etc. — without a wallet. But I remembered I had Apple Pay and figured I would be able to get through at least some of the transactions with that.

Then it occurred to me: I hadn’t once thought of trying to use my phone to prove my identity during the law enforcement encounter. Nor was I asked to . The identity markers were strictly old-school — checking a license plate, calling in a DOB, hair color, weight, and so on. Presumably, the officer assured himself my license and registration were both valid and up to date. Possibly, he was able to pull a digital photo of me via a handheld computer and visually ID me (though if he did, I didn’t see it).

Undoubtedly, being professionally dressed and driving a nice car with a laptop bag on the passenger seat during rush hour helped “legitimize” me in a bunch of ways.

But it’s weird, isn’t it, that I’m carrying around a device through which I can definitively prove my biological identity (touchID), and on which I have a lot of identity-validating information (things only I know).

There are obvious privacy issues here — for example I don’t particularly want to have to register a reference copy of my fingerprints with any database the LAPD has access in order to enable them to verify me. (Though they probably have access to this anyway.) And I also don’t want to do anything that would attach a device identifier or signature to my identity info (though, again, at least some law enforcement organizations presumably have this available to them).

But there’s no particular reason I couldn’t have a digital copy of my driver’s license on my phone. In situations like this, it would be great to be able to pop it up like any other card in Passbook.

And I probably would do it if there was a 3rd-party service in the mix that was trusted, or if the issuing party (e.g. the DMV) had some kind of 2-factor auth that would allow me to prove ownership on the spot without having to submit my bio-data or my phone. Apple could pull this off as a partner if they wanted to.

(See also: http://fortune.com/2015/03/17/alibabas-jack-ma-shows-off-new-pay-with-a-selfie-technology/)

As for the rest of my day… well let’s just say I had to get my friend to pick up the tab for lunch, and the company I was visiting to validate the parking. (Sorry, no tip for the valet!). At the gas station (an Exxon), despite having Apple Pay, despite an NFC device for their branded “speedpass” on the counter, despite a picture of my actual credit cards on the phone, and despite offering to punch in memorized numbers, I coudn’t buy gas without a physical card being present.

Thankfully the guy was nice enough to spot me a gallon.

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