The Government does not intend to increase the amount of information about citizens stored on the public services card (PSC) in the future, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said.
Critics of the card, who say it represents a national identity card being introduced by stealth, have expressed concern that a citizen’s fingerprints and biometric data could eventually be held on them.
Ms Doherty said the information visible on the card was a person’s photograph, signature, PPS number and an expiry date. She said there was more information on the chip in the card, which included the “standard identity set which we have always used” including a date of birth, place of birth, gender, nationality, and if applicable, a former surname.
This information is "encrypted and no one can read that information from the card," the Minister told RTÉ's Morning Ireland, adding that "there are no plans" to change the "standard identity set" held on them.
Ms Doherty said that up to 50 public bodies have access to the information on the card, according to legislation passed in 2013.
She said the purpose of sharing information with other public bodies was to “improve” the delivery of public services and make them “easily accessible so you don’t have to give the same information to other departments.”
Ms Doherty added that registration was a “once off process where you give us your data so we, as a department, can verify that you are who you say you are.”
The Data Protection Commissioner has said there is a “pressing need for updated, clearer and more detailed information” to be communicated to the public regarding the card. In a statement she also said “the implementation of large scale government projects without specific legislative underpinning . . . poses challenges in terms of the transparency to the public. . .”
‘Robust IT system’
Ms Doherty said her department has “one of the most robust IT systems” and followed all standard requirements to ensure information is secure.
She said the rollout of the card, which some 2.8 million people currently have, is not a “new process”.
“The process was first introduced and mooted by the government of 2005,” she said. “It was finally brought in the 2013 act by then minister Joan Burton. There is nothing ambiguous about the legislation.”
She said the Social Welfare Consolidation Act was amended in 2013 to include a section that “details exactly the information we will collect and collate and store and details exactly the named public bodies we will share” that data with.
“There is no generic law. To be very honest, the law is as specific as it can be.”
The Irish Times has recently reported on people having their social benefits cut after refusing to obtain one of the cards.
Dr Rónán Kennedy, a law lecturer at NUI Galway, said he was concerned the card may “slowly become a national identity card that individuals are expected to have on them at all times and to produce when they are required to do so” .
He is part of a group of privacy law experts who have written to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan expressing concern about the project. They want the rollout of additional services on the card to be delayed so that a proper public consultation can take place, claiming the State is “sleepwalking” into a national identity database.
Dr Kennedy described as “very confusing logic” the Government’s statements regarding the card.
“(They said) it’s not obligatory or compulsory but it seems to be mandatory for basic interactions with the state,” he told Newstalk.
He said that over time, the scope of the project may grow and slowly turn into a national identity card.
“To introduce a national identity card here would be a significant change in the relationship between the individual and the State. And it’s not something that should be forced on us,” he said
On the insistance by Government that a national identity card is not being forced upon people, Dr Kennedy said “it’s very hard to say that something’s not being forced on you when it looks like you’re going to need it in order to be able to access things that we really take for granted like obtaining a driving license or passport.”
He said the main issue was about “clarity in what information is going to be passed back and forth between government departments.”
“I think that if this begins to extend from social welfare payments to health information, it becomes much more sensitive,” he said. “There should also be concerns about the extent to which the public services are capable of securing this type of data.”