There has been a spike in Utahns who have mobile driver's licenses or identification cards since the Transportation Security Administration announced last week that it is accepted at PreCheck lines at more than a dozen airports across the nation, including Salt Lake City International Airport.

More than 20,000 Utahns have now signed up for mobile licenses since the technology became available in 2021, about double the number prior to the announcement, according to GET Group, the company that Utah partners with on the app. Company officials add that there has been an average of 1,500 people who have downloaded the app per day over the past week.

"I think that (Utahns) will find that it's really convenient," said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers. "I think at any given moment, any of us can find our phone but we may not be able to find our wallet but that quick access to the phone, the quick access to the app ... will ultimately save a traveler time."

But how does it work?

TSA officials demonstrated the new technology at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday because more Utahns are opting for a mobile option for the first time.

Using a mobile license at the airport

The mobile identification process is essentially the same process people have gone through with physical identification.

A traveler opens their Utah mobile license through their app and places it at a CAT-2 scanner operated by the TSA. An agent on the other side of the scanner will line a real-time photo of the traveler to match with facial features found on the photo identification of the license. This is to help detect fraud.

The agent will also see the name and date of birth of the person so that it matches up with a boarding pass, said Matt Davis, TSA's federal security director for Utah. That means the agent won't see other information that would otherwise be visible through a physical inspection, such as a traveler's home address, driver's license number or any other personal information included on a card.

The mobile process only takes about 10 to 15 seconds, about the same as the physical card inspection.

Marcus Hardy, Intrepid public relations account director, and Denise Torres, TSA supervisory transportation security officer, demonstrate how to use next-generation credential authorization technology units at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, on Thursday.
Marcus Hardy, Intrepid public relations account director, and Denise Torres, TSA supervisory transportation security officer, demonstrate how to use next-generation credential authorization technology units at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, on Thursday. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Dankers said it's really up to a traveler what form of license they use, explaining that even when people age, the real-time photo picks up facial features that don't change with time. The information, including the photo, disappears as soon as the traveler leaves the TSA line.

The scanner doesn't have the capability to store any of the information, anyway, she added. It does, however, better detect fake credentials.

People are advised to set up their mobile licenses before they get to the airport. While a mobile license is aimed at simplifying the travel process, TSA officials caution that it's always good to have a physical license close, as a backup.

The future of mobile licenses in Utah and at the TSA

Utah is currently the only state that has mobile identification available on both Android and Apple devices.

There are a few places that accept mobile licenses. America First Credit Union and Utah Community Credit Union accept them at all of their branches, while Harmons accepts them at its City Creek, Santa Clara and Traverse Mountain stores. They can be used at the Midtown Community Health Center in Ogden and also at various state liquor stores.

The app is free for the first six months with a $2 yearly subscription after that. A spokesperson for GET Group told KSL.com on Thursday that there are other uses planned for the future; however, those will be unveiled by the Utah Department of Public Safety at a later time.

As for traveling, there are a few spots where Utahns can fly out and return using the technology. In addition to Salt Lake City, mobile licenses and identification cards are also accepted in TSA PreCheck lines at:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport
  • Harry Reid International Airport (Las Vegas)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (Jackson, Mississippi)
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Miami International Airport
  • Mineta San Jose International Airport
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Dankers said the agency first tested the technology at its primary headquarters but it is now slowly testing it out in real-world situations.

TSA selected Salt Lake City International Airport because Utah is one of the few states that actually has a functioning mobile license program. Arizona, Colorado and Maryland are the other three states where mobile identification is accepted, which is why the technology is available at major airports in those states. The other airports included in the list simply have the technology to read a mobile license right now, too.

The agency also decided to target PreCheck users because those who signed up for the TSA program tend to travel more and test new technology sooner, Dankers explained. That said, TSA is expected to roll out access to all Utah mobile license owners in the future.

"The plan is to eventually expand this," she said. "We're looking to expand the number of airports where we have these units in place but we're also working with a variety of states to offer the mobile driver's license. ... If you travel (often), you're going to see more of these units at the security checkpoint."