Driving licences with photographs 'no threat to liberty'

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DRIVING licences will carry a photograph of the holder under proposals to be outlined today by the Department of Transport, writes Nicholas Timmins. A consultation paper published by Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State, will discuss the best way of including a photograph in a licence that might be machine-readable.

A department spokesman said the purpose of the paper was 'the redesign of the driving licence and in particular the identification through photographic reproduction'. The paper was being published to gauge public reaction, but he added that whatever the design it would have to include a picture.

The proposal is bound to raise civil liberties concerns that a licence with a photograph is tantamount to an identity card. However, under existing law, motorists do not have to carry a driving licence with them, but are required to produce it at a police station within seven days if requested by the police. A spokesman for the department said: 'It is not planned to change that. We do not believe this has wider civil liberties implications.'

The redesign was needed, the department said, because of the widely acknowledged flaws in a licence that relies on a signature and home address for identification. There had been well-documented cases of people impersonating others to take a driving test. Motorists had also used other people's licences to drive when disqualified. 'The existing licence is open to abuse and is plainly in need of reform. The principle of replacing it with one that includes a photograph is one that we have talked about before.'

The new licence might be the size of a credit card, and so be easier to carry.

The RAC said it would welcome the inclusion of photographs and believed the 32 million driving licence holders would agree. 'At the moment we lag behind the rest of Europe. People say it is an infringement of civil liberties, but people do not have to carry it all the time.'