Bar and restaurant owners discuss drivers' licenses


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Local bars and restaurants recently got answers about the what’s next for drivers’ licenses: smart phones.

The Iowa City Downtown District held a Spring Downtown Bar and Restaurant Forum at Formosa, 221 E. College St., on Wednesday to discuss best practices for checking customer IDs.

The forum is hosted twice a year — April and October — and provides an opportunity for owners to ask questions about alcohol regulations and city ordinances.

“We’re questioning whether plastic is really the best tool,” Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino said.

Instead, he said the future of driver’s licenses most likely would lie in source verification.

Under this system, a one would display her or his license with a smart phone. The license would only be accessible to the person it was issued to through facial recognition or fingerprint scanning. Therefore, people would be unable to use others’ IDs.

What would make the digital licenses different, Trombino said, is that bar and restaurant staff would be able to use it to verify the license information on file with the state.

In turn, it would act as a mechanism for business owners to authenticate with records in real time.

Iowa Division of Motor Vehicles Director Mark Lowe, however, made it clear to the audience he felt electronic licenses with source verification would not be in full use for eight to 10 years.

“It’s very much a pilot thing, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to change their setup,” Lowe said.

For now, licenses have a number of features that can help to verify their authenticity such as watermarks, holographic seals, and ultraviolet markings.

Licenses for those under 21-years-old often have a vertical orientation, while the licenses of those able to purchase alcohol are horizontal.

“I’ve seen places that don’t accept any vertical IDs,” Lowe said.

He said this is up to individual establishments, though nothing in state law says these IDs can’t be accepted when purchasing alcohol if the owner has turned 21.

In addition, on the back of licenses, there are bar codes in place.

The codes are open-source and, when scanned, bring up all the information on the front of a driver’s license with the exception of the picture.

Bars could also tag the codes of people who had been kicked out of an establishment with the proper technology, local restaurateur George Etre said.

Though scanning can make the lines move faster at busy bars and restaurants, there are some drawbacks.

Restaurants need to first buy technology that can read the codes.

“It is an investment,” Lowe said.

Additionally, because the code is open-source, counterfeiters can make their own bar codes that would bring up their own, false information, making clear the need for immediate verification with the DOT in the future.

The DOT plans to start piloting digital drivers licenses on smart phones among its employees.

“The concept is to start moving away from a thing some person could reproduce,” Lowe said. “Will it happen in the next six months? I don’t think so.”

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