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Utah digital licenses don’t track vaccine data, dietary preferences

November 1, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Utah is launching a digital driver’s license that can, or will be able to, track a wide range of information such as vaccine records and dietary preferences.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The state is indeed rolling out a mobile driver’s license, but officials say its scope is limited only to license information. Some have aired privacy concerns and said that such programs could eventually be expanded to other records.

THE FACTS: A pilot program in Utah this year has started to roll out a mobile driver’s license, which allows state residents to carry their license and identification card information on their mobile devices. Similar programs have been initiated in other states.

An image of a flyer circulating widely on social media in recent days, however, suggests Utah’s application may go much further than just licenses.

The flyer lists more than a dozen types of records that it claims “will be tracked or can be added at a later time.” Among them: “Vaccine Records,” “Dietary preferences” and “Social Credit Scoring.”

In one Facebook group, a post of the flyer, with a caption claiming that “Communism will be so much easier now,” was then shared nearly 5,000 times.

But Utah’s mobile application contains the “exact same information” as a physical driver’s license — and nothing more — said Joe Dougherty, director of public affairs for the Utah Department of Public Safety, which includes the Driver License Division.

“The scope for this app is so narrow to only include the mobile driver license,” Dougherty said. “That is all the Driver License Division can do and would do.”

Similarly, David Kelts, director of product development for GET Group North America, which created Utah’s app, said “contractually, it’s the only thing we have with the state of Utah that goes in there.”

The state legislature passed a bill in 2019 to begin pursuing such electronic licenses, and in 2020 passed a measure directing the Driver License Division to set up the pilot program.

Dougherty said any decision to expand the app’s capability would have to be debated and approved by state lawmakers. “As far as I am aware, that is not on anyone’s radar,” he said.

The flyer includes a QR code that goes to a blog post by a group called the Utah Freedom Coalition, which includes the same list used on the flyer. The group did not return a request for comment.

The list is similar to one that appeared in a May 2021 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which outlined privacy concerns about digital licenses and said such programs could hypothetically be expanded for other types of verification.

Jay Stanley, the ACLU senior policy analyst who authored that report, said in a phone interview that Utah’s pilot program did appear to be narrowly tailored to driver’s license information.

But, he said, the infrastructure of mobile licenses does lend itself well to other uses and there is reason to think it could be eyed for carrying other information, such as health records. The broader implications and privacy considerations of such programs should therefore be carefully considered, he said.

In Louisiana, a digital license app can also be used to carry a digital COVID-19 vaccination record, if residents choose.

Utah currently has about 1,600 participants in the pilot program, Dougherty said, with plans to roll the program out more broadly in 2022. The participants continue to retain their physical licenses. So far, there are only a few places — a line of grocery stores, a credit union and, soon, state-run liquor stores — where the mobile licenses can be scanned for use.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.