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EU driving licence plus 'info network' goes on roadmap

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The European Parliamentary seems likely to give the go ahead to Commission proposals for a single European driving licence format this month, following support from the Parliament's Transport Committee. The MEPs propose a ten year period for switch-over to a credit card format licence, with a common format to be introduced after a further ten years. It also suggests a "European driving licence information network" to combat fraud and "licence tourism."

Countries will be permitted to use a microchip in the licence "as a further anti-fraud measure". The recommendations as they are leave some elbow room for the UK, whose early plans for the inclusion of driving licences in its ID scheme were stymied by European restrictions.

Earlier directives mean the UK can't, as it intended a couple of years ago, combine driving licence and ID functionality on the same card, and the current Commission proposals say that data on the new cards must be "limited to the function of a driving licence", which is an impediment to function creep, but not a massive one given the proposed presence of a chip and a network. Although the MEPs say the new licences "must not result in the loss or restriction of an individual's existing right to drive", they propose that member states should have the option of limiting the period of validity of licences on medical grounds in individual cases; clearly licence restrictions imposed by individual states will be accessible via the information network.

In the UK the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) was, along with the Home Office and the Immigration & Nationality Directorate, an original backer of the Passport Service's biometric enrolment pilot. Following a consultation on the harmless-sounding subject of the replacement of the old-style UK licence with a photocard last year, the Government decided to go with the network check option, "working with stakeholders so as to provide secure and robust systems to send and receive information, with a view to abolish the issue of a paper counterpart." This won't happen, however, "until organisations have access to DVLA's database."

The DVLA has a poor record on databases, so it might be best to expect this one when you see it, but in principle it would seem that an ID scheme related licensing system will go onto the roadmap, and we'll get a little closer to network-enabled driving.

Network-enabled driving extra: Further down the line some of the wackier suggestions from the Commons Transport Committee's Cars of the Future report could be given an airing. This report notes that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) want "to see electronic identification be extended to drivers, through the introduction of biometric recognition systems", with the ABI suggesting vehicle security could be enhanced by use of fingerprint and iris recognition.

This is actually not, depending on your objectives, necessarily a crazed idea. Iris recognition probably isn't particularly practical as a general vehicle access system, however a cheap fingerprint reader could be a cost-effective way to provide some increase in a vehicle's security. Regarding it as something that could make theft near impossible, however, would be a serious mistake. But can the powers resist the temptation to link fingerprint to biometric smartcard licence to biometric-enabled card?

ACPO seems to have plans beyond this. Along with "the motor industry", the Transport Committee report tells us, ACPO is "developing a technology which enables the remote immobilisation of stationary vehicles" (thoughtful of them only to be doing stationary ones). "A standard for the equipment has been developed in consultation with ACPO, Police Scientific Development Branch, and the Department for Transport." This is elaborated slightly by a quote from ACPO's evidence: "Should a vehicle be stolen, it will be tracked by a secure operating centre, and subject to the same procedure as for tracking devices, once the vehicle is stationary and in a suitable location and the keys removed, the device will be activated so the vehicle cannot be restarted." Remote immobilisation itself is not new, but a standard supported by the industry, police and the DfT would inevitably move it from owner control (i.e., somebody stole your car, so you probably have some right to stop your car working for them) towards network control (ah, you seem not to have renewed your insurance, paid your congestion charge, etc.). ®

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