Licences going digital next year, ​smartphone driver's licences due in 2018

Forget the plastic -- soon you'll be carrying your digital driver's licence in your mobile wallet under NSW Government plans to digitise state licences. But there's nothing we can do about that unflattering photo.

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Claire Reilly
3 min read

A mock-up of one of the proposed digital licenses.

NSW Department of Finance & Services

It is a truth universally acknowledged that getting your driver's licence involves a nightmare of queues, photocopying, long forms and unflattering photos. Now, the NSW Government is doing away those frustrations with news that it will begin digitising a number of state licence types from next year.

Your unflattering photo will remain, but now you'll be able to carry it around on your smartphone, rather than printed indelibly for the ages on a plastic card.

NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet announced the rollout at the GovInnovate event in Canberra yesterday. Perrottet confirmed that recreational fishing licences will be the first to go digital by mid next year, along with the Responsible Service of Alcohol and Responsible Conduct of Gambling Cards. The most popular licence type, the driver's licence, will be digital by 2018.

According to Perrottet, more than 23 million licences are issued in NSW every year, including 2.8 million plastic cards, covering 750 different licence types. The state is now simplifying the system, which he says has previously been built around "what makes thing easier for government, not citizens."

"Currently it's commonplace for our citizens to have multiple government cards in their wallets -- from drivers' licences, fishing licences or competency cards," he said. "All these different cards have different applications, renewals and expiration processes, with many requiring a new photo each time they're renewed. No wonder so many people dread getting a new licence."

The State Government first announced it was considering the plan in March this year, following the lead of US states such as Iowa and Delaware which have opted to introduce digital licences. Just as smartphone manufacturers and banks have been transforming the digital wallet in terms of payments, the government hopes its new digital licence platform will be a one-stop wallet where you can store all your licences.

"This will go well beyond just displaying an image of a licence on smartphone," said Perrottet. "In an Australian first, our citizens will be able to display, apply for, receive, update and renew their licences using using a secure app on their smartphone and eliminating the need for a physical card."

But while convenience is a strong selling point, the digitisation of personal records brings with it questions about security and privacy, and in this respect even Government records are not immune to vulnerabilities and breaches.

In late 2013 and early 2014, the Federal Government's myGov portal made headlines when a glitch saw the eHealth records of some myGov users opened up to other users and healthcare professionals. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection also faced a breach of confidential records last year when the personal details of 10,000 asylum seekers were mistakenly published on the Department's website.

But Perrottet has attempted to hose down security concerns.

"[The app] will also have licence verification capabilities that draw on the most up-to-date information available, which will significantly reduce the likelihood of fraud or misuse," he said. "All licence information will have a commercial level of encryption, similar to that of online banking."

Ultimately, the Minister emphasised that digital licences would be available on an opt-in basis, and it would still be "a matter of choice" for NSW residents to get their licence digitally, as a card, or in both forms.

The NSW Government will introduce the fishing, gambling and alcohol service licences to the platform in 2016, followed by another 5 licences in 2017, "with more being progressively added over the coming years."