Government to challenge order that public services card had no basis in law

Doherty to appeal commissioner’s findings about wider use of card

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe at a public services card launch. The Data Protection Commissioner recently ordered that Government departments and agencies to delete the data on citizens which was not related to welfare services. File photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe at a public services card launch. The Data Protection Commissioner recently ordered that Government departments and agencies to delete the data on citizens which was not related to welfare services. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government is to appeal the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon about the public services card, Ministers will be told today.

Last month, the State’s data watchdog found that the use of the card, which has been issued to more than three million citizens, for many Government services had no basis in law. Ms Dixon’s office also ordered that Government departments and agencies delete the data on citizens which was not related to welfare services.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s report led to calls for the resignation of Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, whose department has overseen the project.

But now in a Government memo, jointly presented with the Department of Public Expenditure, Ms Doherty will tell Ministers that the Government is to fight the decision.

The Government will challenge the decision in court and defend the continued use of the card. They will also decline to publish the full report of the commissioner’s office.

The two departments have taken advice from the Attorney General and from an external counsel retained by the attorney’s office, who have advised that the commissioner’s decision was wrong in law and exceeded her powers. The memo is understood to be critical of the commissioner’s move in publishing a press release announcing the decision.

The memo to Government also warns that failure to challenge the commissioner’s ruling could leave the State open to actions for damages. It also says it could affect future initiatives, such as the National Childcare Scheme.

The PSC is a Government-issued card designed to “fully authenticate your identity”. It holds a person’s name, photograph, signature and PPS number. It is required by those collecting welfare payments and replaced the social services card.

The card was first introduced for social welfare recipients but was later extended to people applying for a passport for the first time, applying for driver theory tests and driving licences, claiming dental and optical benefits covered by PRSI and Susi education grants.

Ms Doherty said the card was “mandatory but not compulsory” after a woman in her 70s revealed she had not received her pension for 18 months because she refused to register for the card.