21 April 2020
Both the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) have welcomed a 40-page letter from UN expert Philip Alston to the Irish State regarding the Public Services Card. The letter details the 20-year “confused and confusing” history of the project, highlighting in particular its disproportionate impact on poor and marginalised communities.
ICCL’s privacy rights spokesperson, Elizabeth Farries, said:
This is a very important moment in the campaign against the Public Services Card. Last summer the Data Protection Commissioner asserted that the PSC project over-reach was illegal. Now we have a UN expert agreeing that there is a lack of clear legal basis for the card and that it is de-facto discriminatory.
It is time to scrap this project, which has violated our fundamental rights for so long, for once and for all.
DRI chair, Dr TJ McIntyre said:
As we await the Data Protection Commissioner’s report on the biometric aspects of the card, Mr Alston addresses that issue head on in his letter. He also addresses the government’s denial that the card has biometric properties. This is one of the key issues with the card: if your biometric data is accessed, stolen or hacked, there’s no going back.
Mr Alston’s letter comes just weeks after the government waived the requirement for a Public Services Card for anyone accessing the COVID-19 pandemic payment, raising questions about the necessity of the card in the context of social welfare payments.
The Special Rapporteur documents the rising costs of the project, including the State appeal against the DPC findings and the cost of the huge privacy infringements associated with the project – perpetrated by the Irish State on its people.
Also revisited is the Minister for Social Protection’s infamous assertion that the card was “mandatory but not compulsory”. This is branded a “fiction” by the UN Special Rapporteur, given that anyone who depends on payments from the State had no choice but to submit to the card.
Philip Alston is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and has a particular focus on how State surveillance systems disproportionately impact those living in extreme poverty. In July 2019, he gave a talk on the Public Services Card at Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.
For a copy of the letter see https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25811&LangID=E
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s oldest independent human rights campaigning organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland.
Elizabeth Farries and/or Dr TJ McIntyre
For media queries including a copy of the UN letter: Sinéad Nolan: firstname.lastname@example.org 087 4157162