Want to enter a Kafkaesque nightmare? Try using your Public Services Card

Illogical, confusing: PSC may serve the State’s data acquisition whims, but it fails the citizen

Example of Public Services Card: Not ‘mandatory’ – but ‘necessary’

Example of Public Services Card: Not ‘mandatory’ – but ‘necessary’

 

What is the purpose of the Public Services Card (PSC)? My experience this week is that it is incapable of providing an obvious, beneficial service. Yet it skulks around without making clear what it is for, or might become, gathering information it isn’t entitled to but not information that would be helpful to the card’s possessor.

I went to access a service for which the card may be used – as a form of verified identity when applying for a driver’s licence – and after waiting nearly two hours to be called to the window at a Dublin National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) centre, they wouldn’t accept it. Instead, they needed my passport.

Even though NDLS application guidelines state that a PSC is fine to verify the right to residency in the State if one is an Irish or other EU national, and even though I became an Irish citizen several months ago, my PSC was not updated with this key detail.

So I drove home, got my Irish passport, drove back and waited another hour in the queue. The friendly NDLS guy who processed my application was apologetic and I don’t blame the NDLS for this frustration.

I blame myself for not having had sufficiently low expectations for the PSC and foreseeing that I’d need a proper, State-issued form of identification. A passport.

It’s gradually linking to a broad range of sensitive, potentially hackable personal data, yet is unable to update basic data that might make it truly useful

In the baffling, Kafkaesque world of the PSC – a card that can only be obtained in the first place by the production of a passport or other documentation proving the right to be resident in the State – a PSC is not itself acceptable proof that you have the right to be resident in the State. And even though I had to get a PSC to apply for citizenship, and the card was also required when I applied for my Irish passport, the granting of citizenship or a passport is not data shared with the PSC system. Yet there’s an obvious relationship between these departments, and the granting of citizenship is a significant change in status, relevant to accessing services.

I had to go delve into the psc.gov.ie website to find that I am supposed to do this myself – go sit in another queue, in another office somewhere, to notify the PSC people of my new citizenship in order to have that included on the card I had to use to obtain said citizenship and a passport. Lunacy. So confusing, so illogical, and so typical of everything about this card, which may serve the State’s data acquisition whims, but fails the citizen.

Read the “frequently asked questions” on the PSC website, explaining (cough) how the card may, and sometimes must, be used, and I dare you to emerge any the wiser.

Added hilarity

There’s the added hilarity of the site actually stating – as the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, stated back in 2017 – that while the PSC is not “mandatory”, it is indeed “necessary” to access services that virtually every Irish citizen will need to access.

Which means it is mandatory.

However, on the website, in a section entitled “PSC Questions” they do not call this item that is “not mandatory” but “necessary” a PSC. Instead, we get this bit of obfuscation: “It is not mandatory for all people resident in Ireland to be SAFE 2 registered [Standard Authentication Framework Environment – the process used to verify identity] . However, it is necessary, and has always been necessary, that people using high value public services are required to provide some proof of identity. Now, in order to ensure services are provided to the right person and to support efficient service delivery a growing number of public service providers are requiring that proof of identity is underpinned by the SAFE 2 identity verification standard.”

In other words, a PSC.

Telling people they will need “proof of identity. . . underpinned by the SAFE 2 identity verification standard”, as if there were a variety of options, when the only realistic option is the PSC – but not just calling it the PSC – typifies the perplexing government-speak muddle surrounding this card, its purpose and ultimate intent.

The Government has been internationally recognised for providing clear, streamlined services for businesses. Aren’t the ordinary people who live in this country deserving of the same?

I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that the PSC is anything but an ill thought-out identification project that has every sign of slouching towards the unspoken goal of becoming a national identity card.

Every time I look more closely at the PSC – this time, thanks to my hobbled attempts to get a driver’s licence – further levels of contradiction and disconnected bureaucracy become apparent.

Which would be funny (albeit annoyingly so) if the card’s necessary (but not mandatory) use were not spreading through government departments in a disconcertingly vague way. It’s gradually linking to a broad range of sensitive, potentially hackable personal data, yet is unable to update basic data – such as citizenship status – that might make it truly useful to Irish citizens and residents.

The Data Protection Commission has said it is investigating “potential breaches” of the General Data Protection Regulation by a government department, following a complaint that it allegedly interfered with the role of its data protection officer, an offence under the EU legislation. The complaint is being taken by Digital Rights Ireland on my behalf.

Meanwhile, the Government has been internationally recognised for providing clear, streamlined services for businesses. Aren’t the ordinary people who live in this country deserving of the same?

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