Tenders sought for facial-image software for public services card

Contentious card scheme costs State €60m to date, with over three million cards issued

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland are concerned about the possibility of discrimination against those most dependent on State services and about the lack of a legislative basis or independent supervision for the card.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland are concerned about the possibility of discrimination against those most dependent on State services and about the lack of a legislative basis or independent supervision for the card.

 

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is seeking tenders for new facial matching software to support up to 20,000 registrations a week for the public services card and to transfer up to four million facial biometric records of Irish residents to a new database.

The department expects the contract value to be about €700,000, excluding VAT.

The card project has cost about €60 million to date and more than three million cards have been issued.

The public services card and its associated databases have been the subject of an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner amid concerns about privacy and the legal basis on which it was built.

In a request for tender published on the State’s E-tenders website, the department said it previously undertook a procurement process to tender for the supply of facial-image matching software as part of the so-called Safe registration process.

This process is the identity verification stage a person goes through prior to the issuing of a public services card, which the department requires as a form of ID for State benefit schemes.

The department says Safe registration provides “the most robust identity registration process in the State”.

Verification of identity

It is based primarily on a face-to-face identity registration process that involves the capture of an individual’s photograph and signature, verification of identity data already held by the department and facial-image matching.

The so-called public service identity (PSI) data used to verify a person’s identity comprises their PPS number, surname, forename, date of birth, place of birth, sex, all former surnames, all former surnames of the person’s mother, address, nationality, photograph, signature and other information that may be capable of identifying the person.

Critics of the card claim it represents a national identity card being introduced by stealth. They have also expressed concern that a citizen’s fingerprints and biometric data could eventually be held on the card, but Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has insisted there are no such plans.

According to the tender documentation, the average number of Safe registrations being carried out per week is about 12,000, with the peak being 15,000.

Allowing for renewals, the department said it was anticipated that 20,000 facial images would be enrolled in the system each week.

It said there were about 3.4 million images stored in the system at present.

The supplier must provide the “tools and processes to migrate up to four million (biographic and face biometric) records from the legacy system database to the new solution” and carry out work to ensure there are no duplicate images.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland told an Oireachtas committee last November they were concerned about the possibility of discrimination against those most dependent on State services and about the lack of a legislative basis or independent supervision for the PSC. They also claim the project breaches of EU laws on the right to privacy.

Last month, the Road Safety Authority partially reversed its plan to force people to produce a public services card when applying for a driving licence or driver permit.