A challenge by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection against decisions of the Data Protection Commission on the invalidity of the Public Services Card (PSC) is to be heard in the Circuit Civil Court.
Conor Power SC told Judge Jacqueline Linnane on Monday that the Minister was appealing the findings of Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon, who claimed in a report on the card that there was no legal basis for a person to be required to get one.
Mr Power, who appeared with barrister Claire Hogan for the Minister, said the appeal was being launched following service by the commissioner of an enforcement notice requiring the Minister to immediately stop processing data for services outside of her department’s remit.
He told Judge Linnane that the Minister, in her appeal, was asking the court to set aside the diverse steps and requirements of the commissioner as contained in the enforcement notice served in December.
Mr Power told the court the appeal was grounded on the contention that the commissioner had made significant errors of law in her conclusions and in misinterpreting sections of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act of 2005.
The appeal claims the commissioner also acted in breach of fair procedures and that she lacked the powers to direct the steps contained in the enforcement notice which were, in the Minister’s view, unlawful.
No legal basis
Ms Dixon in her report of August last year found there was no legal basis for a person to be required to get a PSC for anything other than obtaining social welfare payments and benefits.
The commissioner also told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that to meet Minister Regina Doherty at that time would be out of the question given that she was disputing the rreport’s findings and clearly would not be applying them, seven of which had been adversarial of the department.
The report found the PSC to be illegal when used to process data for services other than social welfare matters and directed that the State must delete 3.2 million historical records it holds on cardholders. She found that the department had fallen far short of the standards of transparency that would be expected in such a project.
Barrister Catherine Donnelly, who appeared for the Data Protection Commission, asked the court to allow Ms Dixon more time to put in papers in reply to the appeal ,the grounds of which, she said, were very wide ranging.
She said the report ran to 172 pages and there were three large volumes of documents to be considered.
“It is obviously a very important case for both parties and the appeal will have far reaching implications,” Ms Donnelly said.
Judge Linnane said there were clearly very complex issues to be raised and she would direct the commission to have its papers in by April 3rd and adjourn the matter for mention only until late April.
Under the Data Protection Act of 1988 the appeal must be heard as a matter of finality in the Circuit Court with further appeal to the High Court only on points of law.