Department refuses to release details of public services card inquiry

Irish Council for Civil Liberties calls for publication of information in public interest

The Government has denied the Public Services Card is a national identity card

The Government has denied the Public Services Card is a national identity card

 

The Department of Social Protection has refused to release information regarding the Data Protection Commission’s investigation into the public services card, in part because it would be “contrary to the public interest”.

A request from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to the department asking it to release an interim investigation report by the commission into the card and connected projects has been rejected, on grounds that releasing it could reveal the department’s plans or have a significant adverse affect on its functions.

The ICCL call comes as the final stage of Government legislation which will allow wider sharing of personal data with organisations and agencies is set to be debated in the Dáil on Tuesday.

ICCL director Liam Herrick called for “full transparency on the legal basis for the public services card because it violates the privacy and data protection rights of people living in Ireland.

“We have been campaigning against its introduction because it’s unnecessary, costly, and of questionable efficacy - and it targets in particular economically vulnerable people, such as those dependant on social welfare. Further, it is deeply troubling that the Government has continued to roll the card out for essential services while a question hangs over its legality,” he said.

Mr Herrick said the ICCL intended to appeal the rejection of the request for the investigation report and other records, made under the Freedom of Information Act, to the Information Commissioner.

Decisions

“We believe that the public has an immediate right to know what decisions are being taken behind closed doors about our privacy,” he added.

The civil liberties campaign group also called on the commission itself to release the entire report to the public as soon as it is ready.

“The Data Protection Commission has an extremely important role in protecting the privacy rights of all those living in Ireland,” Mr Herrick said.

“The fact that the DPC initiated an investigation in October 2017 into the legal basis for the public services card is significant in itself and ICCL would call for full transparency, and indeed urgency, in releasing the entire report to the public as soon as it is ready.

“We believe that there is no legal basis for the card, given that it violates the principles of necessity and proportionality with regard to privacy rights. If this is the case, the public deserves to know,” he added.

Head of communications for the DPC Graham Doyle said it had served “a draft confidential report” on the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) in recent months for comment.

“The report contained 13 provisional findings on issues spanning legal basis to transparency matters,” Mr Doyle said.

“We subsequently received detailed submissions from the DEASP in late November 2018 on the provisional findings and we are now working to finalise our report and findings, having taken those submissions into account.

“It is not our intention to publish the full report, when finalised, however we will make public a summary of the findings, in the public interest, at an appropriate stage.”

More than three million public services cards have been issued to date but privacy campaigners have claimed the card and its associated databases, including photographs and signatures of individuals, amount to the introduction of a national identity card “by stealth”.

The Government has denied the card is an identity card and it has insisted it does not intend to introduce a national identity card.