Here are three fundamental problems with the PSC
- The card may be illegal under European law.
- The card targets economically vulnerable people, such as those in receipt of social welfare, pension, child benefit or State grants.
- It has cost an estimated €60 million to roll out, with savings of only €2.5million in welfare fraud, according to the Department of Social Welfare.
But why does that matter to me?
The government is rolling out the Public Services Card, beginning with those who are dependent on the State for payments, and storing personal information in a database. It has not published any information on the security protocols in place on this database. The government has explicitly stated that it intends to use the PSC for services such as health and legal services.
In time, you could be forced to store intimate personal data in this database which would be vulnerable to attack.
Here are some more problems:
- It collects and stores more data than necessary for the Government’s purpose of “streamlining services”. There is no independent body overseeing the use, sharing, storage and security of this data. As always with mass storage of data, there is a high risk of a security breach.
- The Data Protection Commissioner has been formally investigating the card’s legality since October 2017. Since then, not only has the Department of Social Protection continued to implement the card on a compulsory basis, but various other departments also now demand it for basic services such as passports and pensions. Under pressure from advocacy groups, the PSC requirement for drivers’ licenses has officially halted because officials are not confident the card has legal cover for this service. Neither are we.
- It contradicts the State’s position on privacy at the EU. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is looking for an option out of proposed EU ID card biometrics, yet the Minister for Social Protection is insisting on PSC biometrics.
- The card targets economically vulnerable people. The Minister for Social Protection famously said the card was mandatory but not compulsory. These semantic arguments are immaterial to anybody who is living from week to week on social welfare payments. The state is forcing them to trade their private data in exchange for access to services to which they are legally entitled.
- Both the state and the Data Protection Commission have refused to publicise information regarding the ongoing investigation. The Department of Social Protection flat-out refused to provide an interim report via our freedom of information request to them. Similarly, the Data Protection Officer will not share any of their reports on the matter and only ‘high level findings’.
But it’s necessary in order to prevent welfare cheats, isn’t it?
- Welfare fraud is far less common than the State would like you to believe. White-collar crime robs the taxpayer of much more every year.
- There are better, less invasive ways to achieve this aim.
- It doesn’t appear the card is saving the state money in this regard. (See above: fundamental problems).
In summary, the PSC should not be continued in its current form given that:
(a) it has no clear legislative basis;
(b) it is not a necessary or proportionate system for achieving access of services or fraud prevention; and
(c) there is no dedicated independent mechanism tasked with overseeing the PSC beyond the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which does not intend to release its investigation report.
Sign the petition to stop the Public Services Card here
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