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Make the photo on the driving licence optional

Comment 3rd July 2010

For decades Britains drove safely and without issue on their paper non-photo driving licences. It is my understanding that he photograph was added in the last few years as a way of "standardising" driving licences across the EU. But for the purposes of motoring in the UK, a photo was not considered necessary and its enactment was not related to road safety.

My proposal is to make the photo optional. Only drivers who desire the convenience of the photo may opt to have it included on their plastic licence document. In addition, drivers who do opt for the photo should be able to choose whether or not their photograph is permanently archived in the DVLA database.

Why does this matter?

I am quite grateful that the coalition government has chosen to shut down the National ID card scheme. It was unnecessary, expensive, and set a bad precedent for civil liberties in the UK. However, the termination of that program still leaves a (largely) mandatory ID card in place in the form of the photo driving licence. By making the photo optional, it substantially reduces the chance that the licence will become a defacto national ID card, which is essentially what has happened in the United States.  Many motorists have no desire or need for a photo driving licence (as indicated by how many paper licences are still widely used) and I feel making the photo optional feature respects their wishes.

One of the elements that makes up a national ID card is a computer database with the photographs of citizens. Should a driver get a photo licence, their ability to prohibit the retention of their photo in a computer database helps civil liberties and reduce the chances of the photo licence becoming a defacto national ID card. I happen to believe that a free country does not require ID nor does it retain a photograph of its citizens in a database.

I understand that an EU directive is involved, and should an opt-out for Britain not be feasible, I believe many motorists would appreciate the availability of a "UK only" non-photo licence.

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