Data Protection Commissioner seeks explanation for legal basis of public services card

Regulator says Department of Social Protection will answer questions on Government data sharing plan

The Data Protection Commissioner has asked the Department of Social Protection for explanations about the legal basis for the card project.

The Data Protection Commissioner has asked the Department of Social Protection for explanations about the legal basis for the card project.

 

The Department of Social Protection has been told by the State’s data protection watchdog to outline how social welfare legislation provides a “robust legal basis” for the public services project.

The card scheme, and associated data sharing in the public sector, have created controversy in the past week after The Irish Times reported that an elderly woman’s pension had been cut off by the department because she refused to register for the card.

In total, the money withheld is about €13,000. The woman said she had felt “bullied” by officials and that no one could demonstrate to her that registering for the card was mandatory.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Data Protection Commissioner said it had sought that the department publish a comprehensive list of questions and answers relating to the public services card project.

The statement, an amended version of one issued to media organisations last week on foot of queries, is more strongly worded and specifically demands explanations from the department about the legal bases it cites for the project.

The commissioner said the list of questions to be answered and published by the department had been provided by the commissioner’s office.

“The questions include such matters as: how the legislative provisions set out in the relevant Social Welfare Acts, which have been cited to the Data Protection Commissioner as the legal basis for the PSC, provide a robust legal basis for what is now being implemented across the public sector, beyond public services provided by the Department of Social Protection?”

The commissioner also said it had asked the department to confirm how the data collected as part of the issuing of the cards secured, who could access it, and how did the department’s registration system - known as Safe 2 - interface with individuals’ records and the online system MyGovID.

It also asked how the card scheme would link with the Government’s proposed Data Sharing and Governance Bill, due before the Oireachtas shortly.

Reiterating its comments last Friday, the office said the commissioner Helen Dixon and her staff had “strongly conveyed their views” on numerous occasions to the department, that there was a “pressing need for updated, clearer and more detailed information to be communicated to the public” regarding the mandatory use of the card for accessing public services.

About 2.8 million of the cards have been issued. The Government argues that this creates efficiencies for the State and the citizen and that it helps to plan better services.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said on Wednesday there had been debates in the Oireachtas in 2011 and in 2013 about the project.

“Maybe we missed the concerns along the way and I am willing to say the Department did miss concerns along the way but they were not highlighted until it became construed as being a national identity card,” she said.

“Nobody has ever been asked to produce it, you can keep it at home in the drawer in your house; it is not an ID card. It is not an ID card, but because people have construed that it was through the back door, there are concerns. Maybe we should have promoted it more.”

Asked why the elderly woman’s pension had been cut off in that particular case, the Minister said: “We have a verification process to ensure social welfare payments go to the people who are supposed to get them. Unfortunately there are some people who are not willing to sign up for the card. I cannot comment on individual cases but we are doing our level best to resolve that particular case.”