Government faces calls to scrap controversial Public Services Card

The Irish Government has been urged to scrap the rolling out of the controversial Public Services Card after a report found that it broke data laws.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has been ordered to delete the data it holds on 3.2 million people gathered as part of the card’s application process.

The Public Services Card (PSC) involves the collection, storing and processing of large amounts of personal information about nearly every person in the state.

A probe carried out by the Data Protection Commission found that it is unlawful for the card to be required as a form of identification in applications for services outside the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. These include passport applications, driving licences and grants.

The report found that the PSC contravened the Data Protection Act.

Helen Dixon, the Data Protection Commissioner, said all information and documents used as proof of identification to obtain a PSC must be deleted, and added that data is being retained for longer than necessary.

Addressing transparency, the review found that the information the department provided to the public about their personal information was “not adequate”.

Ms Dixon added: “In relation to all that documentation, which can have relatively sensitive information in some cases, we see no basis upon which the department can be retaining and is retaining it.

“What they have to do is implement better transparency for the public around what is involved in registration.

“They have to delete the supporting documentation they collected.

“They must stop issuing new cards for the purpose of individuals availing of services from other bodies.

“Even to this day, it’s very unclear what the Public Services Card itself represents proof of. Is it definitive proof of address? I don’t believe it is.”

The report said it is “striking that little or no attempt” has been made to revisit the card’s rationale or its legal framework, or to consider whether adjustments may be required.

Ms Dixon said: “Instead, the development of the card has proceeded by way of one-off, piecemeal changes to existing social welfare legislation, resulting in a situation where, in our view, the approach to the project from a data protection perspective is lacking in coherence.

“There is little or no evidence of any attempt to balance the interests of the state, acting through those public bodies who participate in the scheme, and the interests of those members of the public who are required to obtain and produce the card.

“Certainly, there is no evidence of any such balance being re-examined on each occasion when a new form of use is identified for the card.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Employment said: “The department confirms that it has received a copy of the final investigation report from the Data Protection Commission in relation to the Public Services Card examining compliance with the obligations in relation to legal basis and transparency.

“We are considering the report and will respond in due course.”

Sinn Fein has called for the Government to stop issuing cards until the report has been published in full.

Social protection spokesman John Brady said: “People have serious concerns as to how their data has been held unlawfully.

“It would be totally wrong to keep rolling out the PSC whilst people await clarity and the information as to what is going to happen to their data that has been unlawfully held by the department.

“The rollout has to halt immediately pending the full publication of the full report and serious questions that have been put to the Minister (for Social Protection Regina Doherty) and to the department.

“This was an attempt by Government to roll out a national identification card that has gone completely haywire and we know the Data Protection Commissioner stated that in the report.”

Fianna Fail’s employment spokesman Willie O’Dea described the commissioner’s report as “damning” and accused the Government of pressing ahead with a “flawed plan”.

“(The report) found that it was unlawful for the Government to make individuals apply for and obtain the card in order to access state services such as renewing a driving licence, passport card or when applying for a college grant.

“While the principle of the card has merit, the legal and transparency issues were never addressed by the Government.

“In fact, time and time again, Minister Doherty and her Cabinet colleagues dismissed these concerns.

“She now needs to outline if and when her officials are planning to meet with the Attorney General to address these issues.

“Since its introduction, more than 60 million euro has been spent rolling out the cards, but aside from specific departmental services, its unclear what the status of the current cards is.”

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