‘Massive privacy issues’ in State’s public services card scheme

Public meeting hears project has ‘parallels’ with database of 1.3 billion people in India

Campaigners against the UK's abandoned national ID card scheme have said there are "massive privacy issues" around the public services card (PSC) that is being rolled out in Ireland.

They compared the scheme to a database of 1.3 billion people in India, where even dating websites now require people's national identity number.

Dr Tom Fisher of Privacy International, and another long-time campaigner involved in the UK's No2ID group, told a public meeting in Dublin that citizens had to consider what future governments might do with the data held on them.

The meeting was hosted by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland after concerns were raised about the cards and the underlying Government databases in recent months. About 2.8 million public services cards have been issued.


Privacy and legal experts have questioned the legality of the cards, which will in future be mandatory for certain services, such as obtaining a passport or a driving licence. They will also soon be required for checking entitlement to dental benefit and for accessing school transport services, and their use will continue to expand.

Refused pension

The Irish Times reported in August that one woman had been refused her pension for 18 months because she refused to register for the card.

The Government has insisted the cards have a legal basis in the Social Welfare Acts and that they will lead to better and more efficient government services.

Dr Fisher said Ireland had to “look into the future” with such a scheme, particularly where there was a biometric database with information that would identify someone for the rest of their lives.

He said the Aadhaar identity number introduced in India in 2009 and now held by about 1.3 billion people, also had a legislative basis that was “questionable” and there were some “striking parallels” with the Irish scheme.

Aadhaar began as a requirement to access basic benefits, including social welfare benefits, but then began to increase in scope almost constantly, he said.

There were proposals in India to require it for people wanting to get a sim card or phone number and even to open a bank account. “Even dating websites now require the Aadhaar number,” he said.

Simon McGarr, solicitor with McGarr Solicitors and Data Compliance Europe, said a compulsory ID card and associated biometric database were now being introduced across the population here “by fiat, not by legislation”.

An example of this was how the Road Safety Authority now required that people had a PSC in order to sit their driving theory test, he said.


Dr John Welford, co-ordinator of the No2ID scheme in Edinburgh and a campaigner against Scotland's national entitlement card, said he was "horrified" by the scheme in Ireland.

He said the State needed to look very carefully at what it was doing and that campaigners had to question what the underlying identity register was going to link to. This could potentially include citizens’ health records, local authority records, taxes, driving records and passports.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), said that over the last year, the organisation had received quite a lot of correspondence from members of the public increasingly concerned about the use of the public service card scheme.

In August, the ICCL wrote to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to set out a number of concerns, including whether the card was now mandatory.

Mr Herrick said the lengthy response from the Minister, which said the Government had been very open around current and future plans for the card, did not really address the core concerns.