What’s the big deal?!
ICCL continues to fight the roll-out of the public services card. But what’s the problem exactly?
Here are three fundamental problems, to start:
- 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.
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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.
Please support our vital work on the Public Services Card by clicking here.
June 2019:Read our submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty here. The Special Rapporteur will use this information for his next thematic report to the UN Human Rights Council, which will focus on digital surveillance in social welfare systems.
January 2019: Dept of Social Protection refuses FOI request regarding Public Services Card
We put in a request for all information regarding the Data Protection Commissioner’s investigation into the legal basis for the public services card under the Freedom of Information Act, and they refused to share it with us, on the grounds that it might be “contrary to the public interest”. Not only that, but it seems that the DPC, when it does eventually publish its report, only intends to publish a summary.
Read more: https://www.iccl.ie/news/dept-social-protection-refuse-foi-psc/
Here is our resident privacy expert, Elizabeth Farries, on why the Public Services Card is so problematic:
February 2018: ICCL tells the Oireachtas why the PSC is worrisome.
We presented our concerns about the Public Services Card to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on 8 February 2018:
A note on the Public Services Card and your driver’s license:
We held a public meeting in October 2017 to discuss these issues in relation to Ireland’s Public Services Card.
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*picture credit: Digital Rights Ireland