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Data commissioner in talks over ID card

The Data Protection Commissioner is engaged in “extensive consultations” with the Department of Social and Family Affairs over…

The Data Protection Commissioner is engaged in “extensive consultations” with the Department of Social and Family Affairs over plans to introduce a national identity card, the office has confirmed.

A spokesman for the Office of Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) said they met with the Department before Christmas to receive an initial briefing in relation to the introduction of a public services card.

The spokesman said the key issue from the ODPC’s perspective is the plan to include the PPS number on the card.

He said: “We would be concerned that the inclusion of a photograph, a signature and a number such as the PPSN on the cards could serve for the card to be considered to be a de facto national ID card.”

“Though it is clear from our discussions that the Department does not intend this, the Commissioner would consider that any move towards what might be viewed as a national ID card should only take place following an appropriate public debate.”

The ODPC is also in talks with the Department over the circumstances under which a public service provider can ask for the card and whether a member of the public will be obliged to produce their card to gain access to certain services.

Today is the Council of Europe’s fourth annual Data Protection Day which aims to raise citizens’ awareness of data privacy issues.

The event focuses on educating citizens on what personal data is collected and processed about them, and why; and what their rights are with respect to this processing.

In a brief retrospective marking 21 years of the ODPC’s existence, the current commissioner Billy Hawkes noted the prospect of a national identify card based on RSI (now PPS) numbers had been raised as far back as 1992.

In its annual report of that year, the data protection commissioner said the extended use of a social security number throughout the public sector posed “a more serious threat to privacy than might be imagined”.

“Once multi-purpose numbers begin to cross government agency lines, privacy considerations are set aside in favour of administrative efficiency,” the 1992 report said.

Speaking today, Mr Hawkes said: “Almost 20 years on, the issue of national identity cards is still a live one.

“It is also evident that file matching across government agency lines, using the PPSN, has since become a reality.

“Since my Office was established in 1989, the context of our work as a privacy regulator has transformed through technology and other factors,” Mr Hawkes said.

“Yet, at a more basic level, the concerns remain the same. Simple courtesies like seeking consent, respecting customers and treating their data responsibly can still avoid a lot of problems.”

Mr Hawkes said Data Protection Day was “an opportunity to remind organisations of their data protection responsibilities and to remind members of the public that they have data protection rights”.

“We can all take stock of the challenges we've faced over 21 years - and the challenges still to come.”

Mr Hawkes said as data protection acquires the status of a basic right under the Lisbon Treaty, “we look forward to continuing with the work of giving people real control over the use of their personal information”.

Mr Hawkes said its earliest reports from the foundation of the ODPC in 1989 noted “widespread concern” over consumer credit issues.

These concerns died away over subsequent years only to return last year – “a sign of the times”.

The Council of Europe is also using today’s event to make individuals aware of “the risks inherent and associated with the illegal mishandling and unfair processing of their personal data”.

Mr Hawkes is marking the day marking by participating in a joint initiative with the UK’s Information Commissioner's Office to raise awareness of data protection rights among teenagers.