Statewatch News online: EU driving licences: UK calls for multi-use licences

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EU driving licences to be renewed every 10 years and new security features added each time

Statewatch coverage of the European Commission proposal, December 2003

The European Commission has put forward a proposal to amend the existing Directive on driving licences (91/439/EC) which would mean that it would be mandatory for driving licences to be renewed every 10 years. At present the majority of countries either have no time limit (Austria, Belgium and Germany) or a set time limit (eg: up to 70 years of age in the UK).

There is merit in the Commission proposals to replace the different forms of driving licence with a standard format, introducing standards for testing and age qualifications for certain categories of vehicles. However, the Commission also argues that it necessary to harmonise the form of driving licences by abolishing paper licences and replacing them with by plastic cards which may include a microchip holding data on a driver which has to be renewed at least every 10 years.

It is argued that this is this is necessary for people to travel and move country more easily and complete the "free movement of citizens". Overall it is estimated that 60% of the population of the EU, around 200 million people, hold driving licences. However, the great majority do not move to live in another EU state or drive from country to country (except for road haulage), so it would seem that this proposal is disproportionate with the imposition of standards for all which only affect a minority in practice. As there is already the "mutual recognition" of licences between states the introduction of a standard format would seem to meet the perceived need.

The real reason for 10 year renewal, with the latest security features being added each time, is because "after 11 September 2001" (page 3) there is a need for "anti-fraud protection". In other words it is another response to the "war on terrorism" wrapped up as "anti-fraud protection".

The 10 year renewal of driving licences is, in official speak, called, "limited administrative validity", which will "allow the anti-fraud protection of all licences to be continuously updated" ("state-of-the-art security features") and allow "updating the photograph on the licence at the same time" which would give "a recent likeness of the holder".

The data on the microchip will be "limited to the function of a driving licence" and "ensure protection of the data and information relating to the citizen". While initially the data on the microchip may be limited to that on the paper licences there can be no limit on access to the data held (national vehicle licensing centre data is ....). Moreover the technical specifications will meet "future interoperabililty", which could mean "interoperability" between countries or between new functions.

The 10 year renewal period is the "maximum" leaving it open to governments to introduce shorter periods (eg: every five years). An age limit will be set at 65 years of age when the licence can only be renewed for a maximum of 5 years. Thus:

"all documents in circulation will be updated regularly, using the most up-to-date security features"

Hidden in the detail (on page 70) it states that:

"With the specific written agreement of the holder, information which is not related to the administration of the driving licence or road safety may also be added in this space"

Would information related to "road safety" include a person's medical records? Or perhaps their criminal record? What data "not related" to "road safety" is envisaged? The term "specific written agreement" seems cast-iron but what if it was mandatory for certain data to be included in order to get a new licence, would this constitute "informed consent"? For example, to book an airline ticket online to the USA a number of airline insist that a person ticks the box consenting to their details being handed over to US security agencies, if you do not agree then you cannot book online.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The Commission proposals contain a number of positive ideas. But the maximum 10 year renewal period, with new state-of-the-art security features being added each time, is being driven by the "war on terrorism". The law enforcement and commercial (who stands to make big profits from regular renewals) interests will be the major beneficiaries. Moreover, the notion that the data on the microchip will only be used for licence purposes is nonsense. It will be accessed by national police and security agencies and via the Schengen Information System.

The 10 year renewal period will mean that a person throughout their lifetime might have to check in with the authorities five or six times up to the age of 65 then every 5 years thereafter.

Like biometric documents for resident third country nationals, visitors with visas, EU passports, the EU health card, and new national ID schemes this proposal contributes to the introduction of the wholesale surveillance of the population"

Proposal for a Directive on driving licences: COM 621 final (pdf)

1. Proposal for EU health card: Report
2. The road to 1984 biometric documents for visas and resident third country national: Biometric documents
4. Statewatch's Observatory on Surveillance in Europe: SOS Europe

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