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Driver's licenses no longer accepted as strong proof of identity

The legal reform has set off a rush of applications in Finland for passports and official police-issued ID cards.

Lupapalvelut -kyltti Helsingin poliisilaitoksen ovessa.
Police have been inundated with ID and passport applications. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

A change in the law that took effect at the start of the year in Finland has taken driving permits off the list of documents that are considered valid in situations requiring a strong proof of identity.

This means that over one million people have been scrambling to secure a police-issued ID card or passport. The STT news agency reports that only three-quarters of Finnish residents currently own one or the other.

The rush to apply for the new cards and passports has led to waits of up to several weeks at many of Finland's police stations. Officials say they have been surprised by the number of applications that have been submitted, especially for ID cards.

"Police stations throughout Finland are working at full capacity, and additional resources have had to be mobilized," says Mika Hansson, a senior advisor with the National Police Board.

While the police are responsible for issuing the ID cards, the Population Register Centre of Finland is in charge of certifying the chips embedded in the cards. The Center's director Timo Salovaara says delays on their end have been due to demand exceeding production capacity.

Change has caused confusion

Police statistics show that stations have processed 241,000 applications for ID cards in the first half of 2019. In 2017 this number was much lower, while in 2018, the total for year was 256,000 – a number that Salovaara said picked up as the year drew to a close.

"The phenomenon it led to was even bigger than the actual change," he says.

By phenomenon, Salovaara means the flood of calls and emails that bombarded officials as the first of the year deadline grew closer, as people wanted to know in which circumstances they had to have certain kinds of ID.

He says the only cases in practice where driver's licenses are no longer accepted are transactions that require a strong proof of identity, such as when applying for bank access codes or mobile IDs. In these circumstances, driving permits are now considered too easy to forge to be considered valid.

Driver's licenses are still a good enough form of photo identification for picking up packages and donating blood, for example, Salovaara says.

"More and more situations require a passport or official ID card these days, but in most situations a driver's license is still accepted as proof of identity," agrees the Police Board's Hansson.

New ID cards are very handy

Even so, Hansson thinks that many people are applying for the ID cards because they are also very convenient.

"An official ID card is always accepted as strong proof of identity, so there's no need to ever worry about its validity. It doubles as a handy travel document within the EU," he says.

The official ID card can be used for travel to all of the European Union's 28 countries.

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