Dublin, 18 September 2019
ICCL reiterates calls to stop the PSC and delete data now
Following the publication of the Data Protection Commissioner’s (DPC) report on the Public Services Card, and the response to the report by the Department of Social Protection, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has today reiterated its calls for the Government to comply with the legal directions which have been issued to it to delete illegally held data, and stop illegal processing of personal information.
Unequivocal and devastating findings
The main findings of the DPC report are unequivocal and devastating for the Government. The faults it finds* with the PSC scheme are fundamental to its operation. ICCL is deeply concerned that the Government is continuing to deny the legal force of these findings. The DPC report is based in her statutory powers and is binding on Government. The Minister and the Department are in breach of the law by continuing to process data and by refusing to delete data it (and other departments) is now holding illegally.
Long term consequences
While welcoming the belated appearance of the report ICCL strongly criticises the Department of Social Protection’s handling of the whole PSC debacle – including its refusal to release the very same document under FOI two days earlier.
Further, we are concerned that the DPC ordered all other departments to stop using the card by 5 September but this has not happened. ICCL urges government to consider the long-term consequences of continuing to roll out a card whose use by any department other than Social Protection is illegal.
Tabloid-style arguments about fraud prevention
Elizabeth Farries, information rights programme manager at the ICCL, said:
By refusing to follow the DPC’s directions, the Department continues to display a very poor attitude and understanding about data protection fundamentals. They say they have strong legal advice in favour of the card, yet they won’t share the advice. And they have renewed their tabloid-style arguments about welfare fraud prevention, with no strong statistics or financial analysis to back these sensational claims. It is time for the Department to act in a manner that is fair, transparent, and above all else, legal. Delete our data and stop the ongoing roll out of the PSC.
ICCL observes that on Monday the Department published figures on fraud and we highlight that the Irish exchequer loses much more by way of white-collar crime in Ireland every year. Indeed we hardly need to point out that the costs of rolling out the Public Services Card, and now the costs of taking a legal challenge to the regulator’s findings, will far outweigh any benefits which might be seen through uncovering fraud.
ICCL director, Liam Herrick, said:
This card unfairly targets economically marginalised people who depend on the State for their welfare payments. It also works in a gendered way, being a requirement for mothers collecting child benefit. Though the DPC report did not focus on these issues, ICCL believes that the structural inequality inherent in the card may well render it illegal.
*Notes for editors:
- The DPC finds that the purpose of the PSC has changed completely from its original purpose as a ‘chip-and-pin’ method of access to public services without a photograph, to a national biometric registration system. Their analysis completely debunks the Government’s claims that the current system was always envisaged.
- The DPC points to clear examples of “mission creep”, including areas such as appeals on school transport decisions, which previously did not require any identity verification, but now are intended to require PSC as the only form of ID – essentially this shows that the PSC is a project in search of a justifictaion.
- The DPC finds that the ‘security’ justification for the card is contradicted by the fact that many people received PSCs without even attending for interview.
- The DPC rubbishes the Government arguments about the effectiveness of the PSC in preventing fraud. On a generous interpretation the fraud prevention effect is estimated at less than €1m – whereas the Government had previously presented figures of €500m.
- A central plank of the DPC finding is that any policy or measure that negatively affects an individual’s rights must be set out clearly in law. Since the PSC has become a method of denying services to people (rather than a tool to help them), it must have a clear legal basis – which is does not.
- On data retention, again the DPC finding is damning in that the Government is applying a “just in case” blanket approach to holding personal documentation where there is no justification for doing so. This is a direct violation of basic principles of data protection.
See more about our work on the Public Services Card here: https://www.iccl.ie/privacy/public-services-card/