Last Thursday, August 24th, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) wrote to the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform seeking clarifications regarding the operation of the Public Service Card system. To date we have not receieved a substantive reply to this letter, and the various Government statements on this issue fail to address some core concerns.
The questions we directed to Minister Donohue were:
- Is it still the Government’s position that the Public Service Card is not mandatory, and that possession of, and application for, the Public Service Card is voluntary
- Is it the Government’s position that existing primary forms of identification verification – passport, driving licence etc. – can continue to be used to access all state services and payments? And, if so, will this be communicated to all relevant State agencies?
- Arising from questions 1 and 2 above, what is the status of the Government Decision, S180/20/10/1789 of 2013 which describes the Public Service Card as the State’s “standard identity verification scheme”?
- What is the legal status of the set of objectives set out in the Government’s e-Government Strategy 2017-2020, particularly those objectives set out in Annex B to that strategy, which propose to make the Public Service Card the primary identification verification system for a wide range of essential state service?
- What is the Government’s understanding of the distinction between a “mandatory system” and a “standard identity verification system” which applies to essential services?
We believe that the public deserves answers to each of these questions.
It has been the consistent position of ICCL that if the Irish Government wishes to introduce a mandatory national identity card, or if it wishes to change an existing identity system from a voluntary to a mandatory system, then it should put such a proposal before the Oireachtas in the form of primary legislation with an open public consultation process.
In any such debate, ICCL would set out the reasons why we have consistently opposed the introduction of mandatory national identification cards – as, indeed have a wide range of civil liberties and human rights organisations and legal experts in this jurisdiction and also in the United Kingdom where proposals for mandatory cards have been withdrawn.
We would argue:
- that mandatory identity systems have been proven in many countries to be ineffective as a measure to combat crime and fraud;
- that such systems have been shown to disproportionately expensive to introduce and maintain relative to any cost savings that might accrue;
- that such systems of retention and control of sensitive personal data have also been shown to be intrusive and unsafe; and
- that, where possession or carrying of cards has become mandatory, the application of powers to produce cards has often been discriminatory and has aggravated existing inequalities.
We believe the extension of the requirement to use a Public Service Card to access a wider range of public services will have the effect of making the Public Service Card mandatory in every effective sense. In particular, we are concerned that making possession of a Public Service Card mandatory for persons seeking to apply for a passport or driving licence, will mean that failure or refusal to apply for Card will have the effect of excluding an individual from services which are intrinsic to the enjoyment of participative citizenship and fundamental human rights.
ICCL does not believe that there is any valid legal basis for refusing a payment to which a person is otherwise legally entitled where that person can prove their identity using other state documentation – passports or driving licence.
ICCL will continue to press Government on this issue and is working closely with colleagues at Digital Rights Ireland, Data Compliance Europe and with other independent experts to highlight the significant privacy concerns which are raised by this scheme.
For further information contact ICCL at firstname.lastname@example.org