Dublin, 29 July 2019
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston, has said the roll-out of the Public Services Card (PSC) without a clear legal basis could have huge potential consequences for future governance. He also said its operation potentially disadvantages many people living in poverty.
Speaking in an academic capacity at an event at Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Prof Alston said
The Irish government is taking decisions which will have huge potential consequences for governance in the future without any transparency or public debate. Very worryingly indeed, we have no information as to what state agencies will be able to gain access to the biometric information stored on the card. Down the line you may have a situation where information as sensitive as health data may be stored in a database accessible by many state bodies and which, unless huge protections are put in place, is vulnerable to attack.
The Special Rapporteur also commented that while there are many parallels with situations in other countries, there seems to be less public awareness of the issues here in Ireland. Addressing the issue of the ongoing Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) inquiry into the card, he said:
It is essential the DPC inquiry addresses the fundamental human rights issues at stake here. Further, it is essential that it be published in full in order to spark the public debate which has been notably lacking up until now.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties organised this talk, having recently submitted a paper to the UN expert on how the PSC violates the right to privacy of people who are dependent on the state’s social welfare schemes.
Also speaking at the event were Martin Collins and Anastasia Crickley of Pavee Point.
The PSC requires that people hand over their biometric data in exchange for support to which they are already entitled. The government is centralising this information in a database which is shared among numerous government bodies.
ICCL’s information rights project manager, Elizabeth Farries, said
As with any database, the information stored within is vulnerable to misuse, attacks, and leaks. The risks are too high for so-called state administrative convenience. Further, those who aren’t dependant on the state for support do not have to submit to such a serious invasion of their privacy by government. So not only is the PSC probably illegal under EU law, it is also highly discriminatory.
Read our report to the Special Rapporteur here.
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