Public Services Card: Doherty insists data commissioner misinterpreted law

Minister says she will respond to an enforcement notice ‘if it ever arrives’

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty says advice from the Attorney General and external lawyers was that  the mandatory use of the card across government was permitted.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty says advice from the Attorney General and external lawyers was that the mandatory use of the card across government was permitted. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has insisted the Data Protection Commissioner has misinterpreted the law governing the use of the Public Services Card.

During an ill-tempered appearance at the Oireachtas committee on employment affairs and social protection, Ms Doherty said the DPC’s interpretation of legislation underpinning the card “is in fact incorrect”.

She said her department had received advice from the Attorney General (AG) and outside lawyers acting for the AG’s office, as well as its internal legal team, and was happy that “our interpretation of our legislation, passed by successive governments, is correct”.

In August, the DPC found that the Department should delete data held on millions of PSC-holders, and directed that the mandatory use of the card across government be curtailed.

Ms Doherty’s department is yet to comply with the conditions attached to the DPC investigation, making it likely that the data privacy body will issue enforcement proceedings against the Government.

Ms Doherty said she would respond to the enforcement notice by the DPC “if it ever arrives”.

There were testy exchanges between Ms Doherty and several committee members, most notably Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea and Sinn Féin spokesman John Brady.

Limerick TD Mr O’Dea said the actions of the department risked undermining the office of the DPC, especially in the eyes of the multinational tech giants it is tasked with regulating.

“It can lead to the impression that if you disagree with a finding of the DPC, you can go to the Irish government and they’ll see you right”.

He said an answer she gave him on the requirement to have a Public Services Card for an appeal on school transport decisions was “disingenuous”.

In reply, Ms Doherty said Mr O’Dea had thrown personal insults at her, “which I won’t stoop to descend to”.

She later said Mr O’Dea was “throwing out anecdotes just to make yourself feel smart” and raised the long gap since the former minister had sat at the Cabinet table.

Mr Brady told Ms Doherty that she was “belittling and dismissing” Irish experts who had raised concerns about the PSC, and said she had misled the chamber on the project, specifically in relation to whether or not it was mandatory to have a PSC to apply for a passport.

Ms Doherty said his suggestion was a “slur”.

The Minister repeatedly insisted that there were offline alternatives to using web-based applications for public services, which require a PSC or MyGovID. “There has been a charge made that we were trying to force people down a tunnel [to use the PSC], that has never happened,” she said.

She also defended the gathering and retention of data from free travel passes, saying it was necessary to pay transport companies for services used by card-holders.