Public services cards to be distributed widely in 2012

Fri, Feb 10, 2012, 00:00

HUNDREDS OF thousands of citizens will be given public services cards this year following the introduction of 5,000 of them in a pilot project last year.

It is envisaged the microchipped card will eventually be used by a range of public bodies to identify an individual at points of service and to provide “egovernment” or online services.

It is also envisaged that areas of the public service may use the information on the card to check their information matches that held by other bodies.

It is currently being introduced by the Department of Social Protection and is being given to recipients of jobseeker’s benefit and allowance, one-parent family payments, disability allowance and other payments.

Tadgh O’Leary of the Department of Public Expenditure told a conference in Dublin the card was being introduced in an “accelerated fashion” under the Government’s public service reform plan.

Mr O’Leary, who has responsibility for egovernment and shared services within the department, said the public service was a very complex legal environment, consisting of hundreds of different bodies with different legal bases.

He told the Irish Computer Society’s annual data protection conference at Croke Park in Dublin that, with regard to public service reform, there were things “we want to do and things we have to do”, while also dealing with reductions in staff and money.

Things had to be made more efficient, but there was also a drive to improve the “customer service experience”.

He said there would be a legal review of all the relevant legislative provisions for data-sharing between public bodies to develop principles for sharing data.

This should have regard to the forthcoming European directive on data protection in considering any amendments.

“This could mean one of two things: it could mean identifying all the legal provisions that prevent or hinder sharing data, or it could mean there are, in fact, such legal prohibitions in place.”

Mr O’Leary said there were administrative and technical barriers to sharing information across the public service. “But to what extent we have very significant legal barriers is something this is proposing to establish.

“As of now there are 5,000 individuals in the State who have public services card. This year that will grow by hundreds of thousands of individuals.”

He acknowledged it involved “very substantial” issues of data protection and said the system was moving “in a very restricted way” initially to ensure there was no “leakage” of information.

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes, who also spoke at the conference, said he had been following developments with the card “very closely” and was concerned to ensure it was used “in a positive way”.

Mr Hawkes said there would have to be general concerns, not just about data protection, but also about the dangers of identity theft.

He said his office had emphasised the need to minimise the amount of data that was visible on the card, while recognising that certain data had to be visible to make it usable.

He said he hoped other arms of the Government would have “the same rigorous approach” to such issues that the Revenue Commissioners clearly had.

“From our experience, we cannot make that statement about all public service organisations.”