A delegation from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is to appear on Thursday at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, highlighting what it says are significant human rights concerns associated with the roll-out of the Public Services Card, a national biometric database, and the Single Customer View database (together, the PSC).
At Thursday’s meeting, the ICCL will voice its serious concerns around a number of issues, including the collection of biometric data (facial scans); the lack of a sufficient legal basis or a dedicated independent oversight mechanism for the PSC; breaches of European laws on the right to privacy; and the oppressive effect of the scheme on those most dependent on State services.
In a statement, Liam Herrick said,
“We believe that there are outstanding and serious concerns about the PSC scheme. The process has been less than transparent from the outset and important privacy concerns remain unanswered. ICCL believes the scheme is questionable in law, and dangerous in relation to privacy. Despite the extensive PR campaign which has been mounted by the Government on this issue over recent months, the main privacy questions remain unanswered.”
The ICCL delegation will outline where the present scheme is not compliant with Ireland’s obligations under the Irish Constitution, EU law and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). These laws require that major state interferences with the right to privacy can only happen in a manner that is clearly prescribed by legislation, necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim being pursued. In its written submission to the Oireachtas Committee the ICCL states that the law claimed to underpin the PSC is practically impossible to understand and appears not to provide for all of the uses to which the PSC is being put. The ICCL also states that the government has not demonstrated that the PSC is necessary to ensure proof of identity or to save money. Importantly, the ICCL argues that the PSC in its current form is not a proportionate way of ensuring proof of identity, particularly because of the security risks that mass storage of biometric data carry and the government’s failure to put sufficient independent oversight in place.
Mr. Herrick continued:
“We’re also concerned that, as the scheme takes on more attributes of a mandatory and compulsory national card, the PSC disproportionately affects those who are most reliant on public services, such as people in unemployment, pensioners, and students who need state support in order to access third level education.
The wide range of public services for which the PSC is now, or will soon become, mandatory, fundamentally alters the nature of the scheme and would appear to negate any legislative basis which may have existed for the PSC when it applied only to single or isolated areas of public service provision.”
The ICCL identifies a number of potential security and privacy risks with the scheme particularly around the requirement to submit a biometric facial scan in order to obtain a card. In its submission, ICCL highlights a recent breach of India’s biometric database, which has resulted in personal details being sold online for as little as €7.
At the Oireachtas hearing, the ICCL is also expected to express concern at the lack of a dedicated independent monitoring of the management and security of personal data, having previously expressed concerns that the Irish State is deliberately erasing the Single Customer View database history showing who has accessed and changed personal information.
Mr. Herrick added:
“We also worry that unsupervised mass collection of personal data would lead to increased targeting of minority populations, as has happened in other countries. We are deeply concerned about the violations of
EU law and economic discrimination which are inherent in the scheme and call for an immediate halt to the current attempts to make the PSC compulsory for public services”.
The ICCL will present to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection at 10:45am on 8 February 2018. It will be broadcast on oireachtas.ie and iccl.ie.