EU plans to force member states to include people’s fingerprints on their national identity cards are not expected to affect the State’s public services card, the Department of Social Protection has said.
In April, the European Commission proposed what it described as measures to bolster the security of identity cards and reduce document fraud, and to provide law enforcement and judicial authorities with access to electronic evidence and financial information.
It proposed making biometric data mandatory for those countries with ID cards and said EU citizens’ ID cards (older than 12 years) and non-EU family members’ residence cards would now include biometric data, namely fingerprints and facial images, stored on a chip.
The commission said its proposed regulation did not introduce compulsory ID cards across the EU but upgraded the security features of existing ones, while leaving other aspects relating to the design of national ID cards entirely up to individual member states.
“By introducing these upgraded standards, the proposal follows a similar approach to that taken already by the EU for the security features of passports,” it said.
Statewatch, a voluntary body of lawyers, academics, journalists, activists and researchers, which has an interest in civil liberties issues, said the plan should be rejected by the European Parliament and the Council when they begin discussing the proposals.
It said the demands to include fingerprints on ID cards were “an unnecessary and unjustified infringement on the right to privacy of almost 85 per cent of EU citizens”.
Statewatch said some 370 million people in the EU would be affected by the measure – almost 85 per cent of the EU’s 440 million citizens.
“Although the primary objective of the measure is to facilitate free movement within the EU, the proposal was published as part of a series of measures billed as ‘denying terrorists the means to act’ and the Commission proposes the mandatory inclusion of two fingerprints ‘in order to further increase effectiveness in terms of security,’” it said.
“There has been no attempt by the commission to demonstrate the necessity or proportionality of the proposal, despite this being a requirement for any EU measure that infringes upon fundamental rights.”
More than 3 million public services cards have been issued since the project was rolled out in 2011. The project has been criticised by civil liberties groups here who fear its impact on people’s privacy rights and who claim the card is a means of introducing a national identity card “by stealth”.
The contract for the production of the cards recently came to an end and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has sought tenders for a new five-year contract.
According to the tender documentation, the card contains a file into which biometric data can be inserted. The documentation says that while there are no current plans to utilise this facility, it is a “requirement” that the design of the new public services card “allows for this eventuality”.
Asked about the European Commission proposals, the department said it was aware of the proposed regulation.
However, it said the public services card was “not a national ID card and we do not expect that it will be impacted by the proposed regulation”.
“The data that can be stored on the PSC is provided for in section 263 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended). This does not include the inclusion of fingerprints,” the department said.
“Therefore, any change to this data set, including the inclusion of fingerprints, would have to be provided for in legislation which would have to be debated in, and passed by, the Houses of the Oireachtas.”
The department said while there may be implications for the Irish passport card, this was a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to comment on.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond when asked whether there were plans to include fingerprints on the passport card.
The procurement process for the new public services cards has not yet been completed.