Monday 23 September 2019

Government gears up for court battle over Public Services Card

Ms Doherty’s Department has written to the DPC Helen Dixon advising her of the decision. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Ms Doherty’s Department has written to the DPC Helen Dixon advising her of the decision. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Government is gearing up for potential court action to contest the data watchdog's damning findings on its controversial Public Services Card.

It comes after a two-year investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) found that it was unlawful to force individuals to obtain the card to access State services such as passports, drivers' licences and student grants.

The Government was told it must now delete data on 3.2 million citizens who have been issued the card.

The PSC card was first introduced to obtain social welfare benefits.

Critics of the €60m project have raised privacy concerns, and claimed it amounted to a national identity card, introduced through the back door.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties executive director Liam Herrick criticised the decision to appeal the DPC's findings. The DPC report was discussed at Cabinet last night where Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe briefed colleagues.

They acknowledged the DPC finding that the card is validly required for the purposes of transactions with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Ministers were also told of the DPC's finding that there was no legal basis for the issuing of PSCs for transactions with other State bodies.

The Cabinet heard that after advice from the Attorney General, Ms Doherty and Mr Donohoe are satisfied that the processing of personal data related to the PSC does in fact have a strong legal basis. A statement said that "on this basis it would be inappropriate, and potentially unlawful, to withdraw or modify the use of the PSC or the data processes that underpin it as has been requested by the DPC".

A Government spokesman claimed that accepting the finding of the DPC report would "undermine" the decisions of successive governments dating back to 1998.

The ministers are satisfied that "the correct, and lawful, approach to take is to continue to provide, and support the use of the PSC not just by DEASP but by the other public bodies that rely on it".

Ms Doherty's Department has written to the DPC Helen Dixon advising her of the decision. The statement said: "In doing this, and although it is not the Government's preferred outcome, it is acknowledged that it may be necessary and appropriate for the matter to be referred to the courts for a definitive decision."

Irish Independent

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