Rights group to outline ‘grave concerns’ over public services card

ICCL to tell Oireachtas committee that the scheme may lead to targeting of minorities

File photograph of Paschal Donohoe, with a facsimile of his public services card. Photograph: Eric Luke

File photograph of Paschal Donohoe, with a facsimile of his public services card. Photograph: Eric Luke


There are grave concerns about the Government’s public services card (PSC) project and its impact on people’s fundamental rights, an Oireachtas committee will be told on Thursday.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is due to appear before the Joint Committee on Public Affairs and Social Protection to outline its concerns that the card and the huge database of people’s personal information associated with it may result in the “targeting” of minorities.

Just over three million cards have been issued to date and the project has cost approximately €60 million since they were first introduced in 2012. They were initially issued to people claiming certain State benefits, but their use is expanding and they will soon be mandatory in order to obtain a passport or driving licence.

Legislation currently before the Oireachtas also proposes removing the restriction which prevents people presenting the card as an ID card other than in exchange for State services.

At Thursday’s meeting, the ICCL will voice serious concerns about a number of issues, including the collection of biometric data (facial scans); economic discrimination against those most dependent on State services; the lack of a legislative basis or independent supervision for the PSC; and what it says are breaches of EU laws on the right to privacy.

‘Less than transparent’

ICCL executive director Liam Herrick said the process had been “less than transparent and important privacy concerns remain unanswered”.

“ICCL believes the scheme is questionable in law, and dangerous in relation to privacy.”

The delegation will outline how it believes the card scheme does not comply with Ireland’s obligations under EU law, which states that interferences with the right to privacy can only happen when “necessary and proportionate”.

In its written submission, the ICCL will say the PSC is not necessary because “alternative forms of identification, including passports, are available and were previously sufficient for the purposes of accessing public services”.

It says the PSC is disproportionate “because it requires people in Ireland to link all of their personally identifiable information, including facial scans, into one database shared by numerous agencies”.

Most reliant

Mr Herrick said the ICCL was also concerned that the PSC disproportionately affected those who are most reliant on public services, such as people who are unemployed, pensioners, and students who need State support in order to access third-level education.

“We also worry that unsupervised mass collection of personal data would lead to increased targeting of minority populations, as has happened in other countries.

“We are deeply concerned about the violations of EU law and economic discrimination which are inherent in the scheme and call for an immediate halt to the current attempts to make the PSC compulsory for public services.”

The ICCL is due to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection at 10.45am.

Solicitor Simon McGarr will also outline privacy concerns about the card project to the committee.