It is extremely likely the State will face a barrage of compensation claims following revelations that the gathering of data during the issuing of Public Services Cards (PSC) was illegal.
The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has published a report which found that the storing of information gathered during the application process was illegal, along with the obligation on the general public to have the card in order to avail of the provision of certain State services and benefits.
There are already several civil society groups who have revealed that they are considering submitting a class-action style case. At the time that the card was introduced advocacy groups in including Digital Rights Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Age Action objected to it.
Following the DPC investigation it was deemed that the operation of the PSC scheme does not comply with the transparency requirements of the data protection acts due to the inadequate nature of information provided, by Department of Social Welfare, to those who were having their data processed. The result of this is that he data held on more than three million card holders must now be deleted and data processing by the Department, rather that the public body providing the service, must be discontinued. These tasks must be completed within the specified timeline or some enforcement measures may be sanctioned against those responsible.
In a statement regarding the investigation the DPC said “Ultimately, we were struck by the extent to which the scheme, as implemented in practice, is far-removed from its original concept,” the DPC said in a statement published on its website.
“Whereas the scheme was conceived as one that would make it easier to access (and deliver) public services, with chip-and-pin type cards being used for actual card-based transactions, the true position is that no public sector body has invested in the technology capable of reading the chip that contains the encrypted elements of the Public Sector Identity dataset. Instead, the card has been reduced to a limited form of photo-ID, for which alternative uses have then had to be found.”
There have been some calls for the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty to resign from her position due to the controversy. Sinn Fein have revealed that they are considering tabling a motion of no confidence prior to the Dáil returning from summer recess in September. Reacting to the investigation findings, Minister Doherty said: “We only received the report yesterday. It’s a very comprehensive report. We are going to consider the report and issue a full response as soon as we can.”
The card was launched initially in 2011 in order to assist with the processing of social welfare payments. Following this, it was required for a number of other services including first-time adult passport applicants, replacement of lost, stolen or damaged passports issued prior to January 2005, where the person is resident in the State, citizenship applications, driving test and driver licence appointments.
This does not mean that the PSC is now a redundant form of identification and it will continue to be valid for a range of specific services. Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon said: “Any cards that have been issued, their validity is not in question by anything we’ve found in this report,” she said. “They can continue to be used in the context of availing of free travel or availing of benefits that a person is claiming from the department.”
She went on to say that this does not mean that it is impossible to issue a single card, or possibly a national identity card that can be used for all interactions with the state. She said: “No, we’re not saying that at all. We’re saying that if that’s what’s intended or required, there isn’t a lawful basis [as currently set up]. It can’t be the case that a national identity card automatically offends EU charter fundamental rights or EU data protection law because they exist all around Europe. It is a possibility, by carefully laying down the lawful basis for such a card.”
Ms Dixon has asked the Department to publish the report of the investigation in the Public Services Card.