Minister insists no biometrics collected in card technology upgrade

‘We don’t collect biometric data. We collect and store photographs,’ Regina Doherty says

Public services card: Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said new software would not use advanced facial mapping cameras for registration or replacement of the card.

Public services card: Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said new software would not use advanced facial mapping cameras for registration or replacement of the card.

 

An upgrade in facial mapping software for the Department of Social Protection will not involve biometric data or retinal eye scans, the Dáil has been told, even though it is specifically mentioned in tender documents.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new software would not use advanced facial mapping cameras when taking photographs for registration or replacement of a public services card.

But an “important byproduct” of the update would be to detect any potential instances of identity theft or suspected social welfare fraud, she said.

To date, 3.2 million public services cards, which the department requires for access to social welfare benefits, have been issued.

The department has put out a tender for €700,000 seeking an upgrade of its technology, which the Minister said had not been upgraded since its introduction six years ago.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy noted the Minister posted a tweet last August in which she “clearly stated that the department does not collect facial-recognition data”.

Ms Doherty insisted that “the tweet still stands”.

“We don’t collect biometric data. We collect and store photographs.”

The Minister added: “All we’re doing is upgrading the software.”

But the tender documents issued by the department state that the supplier must provide the “tools and processes to migrate up to four million (biometric and face biometric) records from the legacy system database to the new solution solution” and carry out work to ensure there are no duplicate images.

Algorithm upgrade

She told Ms Murphy the main objective “is to upgrade the algorithm we use and to ensure that when a public services card needs to be replaced, that it can be undertaken securely to prevent any error in the allocation”.

“The department does not ask for nor does it collect biometric data from its customers or retinal scans or any other items that could be listed as biometric data,” she said. “We’re not considering a photograph as biometric data. It’s just a photograph.”

Ms Murphy raised concerns about data protection and asked if information would be transferred to other departments.

Ms Doherty said it was “governed since 2012 by legislation. None of that has changed and none will change.”