Public service cards are being used 'outside the law' - watchdog
The Government "will be required to comply" with an order to delete data on the 3.2 million people who hold public services cards, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has said.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has rejected the Data Protection Commission's findings that it has no legal foundation for keeping mass electronic records of cardholders or permitting those cards to be used by other government departments.
Ms Dixon told the Public Accounts Committee yesterday her office would serve an enforcement order on the department "imminently" - and foresees eventual victory following a potentially protracted and costly legal fight.
"Once an enforcement notice issues, the department will have 21 days to comply or appeal," she said, noting that the latter course could mean arguments in a succession of venues starting at Circuit Court level. "I would imagine the ultimate consequences are that they will be required to comply," she added.
Ms Dixon said the Government's response to her findings was inconsistent, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Transport both ending their practice of requiring the cards for passport and driving licence applications respectively.
But she said other departments were still using or planning to use the card in ways that were "outside the law".
"The Department of Children and Youth Affairs appears to be pressing ahead with a requirement for the new childcare scheme that individuals use a public services card to apply online," she said.
"The only alternative option that appears to be offered is a manual paper-based application that won't be ready until the new year and won't provide back-payments. So clearly this is completely at odds with the findings of our report."
She disputed claims by Employment Minister Regina Doherty that she had twice refused to meet the minister or her officials in mid-August.
Ms Dixon said she had responded positively to an initial August 22 message from the department's deputy secretary-general seeking a meeting to discuss the report.
But she heard nothing more until September 3 - immediately after Ms Doherty had made a series of public statements rejecting the report.
Ms Dixon said it had become clear that the department "did not intend to comply with any of the recommendations", and the September 3 message from the department's secretary-general explicitly sought a meeting to "negate the requirement for any enforcement proceedings".
"This was entirely inappropriate," Ms Dixon said.