Saturday 21 September 2019

Is the government sneaking national ID cards in through the back door?

Our View

This past week has seen much debate about Ireland's relatively new Public Services Card amid allegations that the Government is trying to sneakily introduce a new national identity card in through the back door.

Last week an Oireachtas Committee heard from legal experts on privacy rights that the PSC card - which is now needed to access a raft of State services - might not be compliant with EU data protection laws and that, as a result, the Government could be hit with millions of Euro in compensation claims.

So what exactly is the current furore all about?

The PSC card was first introduced back in 2012 ostensibly as a way to crack down on welfare fraud and to help streamline access to various social welfare programmes.

That's all well and good but since then new policies, introduced bit by bit and with little fanfare, have led to a situation in which the card is needed to avail of numerous other services, including driving licence and passport applications.

In a feat of bureaucratic logic and linguistics worthy of 'Yes Minister's' Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Government still insists that the cards - which contain significant amounts of personal data - aren't compulsory and that no one is actually being forced to sign up for them. Technically they are correct, however anyone planning on leaving the country or driving a car once their licences and passports expire will, likely, find the reality is somewhat different.

As one might expect, those leading the charge against the cards are primarily from among the left wing privacy protection movement. What is interesting about their take on the matter is that most don't seem opposed to either the concept or the general principle of the cards, rather their issue is how the Government has introduced the, supposedly, 'non compulsory' cards.

Here it would seem the privacy advocates have a point.

On the face of it there seems to be little wrong with the introduction of an ID card that could allow citizens access a whole range of services while providing that State with an effective way to monitor potential fraud.

Despite what some of the more rabid anti State commentators in Internet chat rooms might claim, Ireland is far from a police state and introducing a national ID card is unlikely to see people asked to present their papers to walk down the street.

Ireland is one of only two European nations that doesn't have a national ID card and, indeed, most people here don't appear to have a difficulty with their introduction.

The problem lies in the Government's secrecy and it is here that Mr Vardakar and his Departments have dropped the ball.

If there is nothing to fear about the cards - and that certainly seems to be the case - why not have an open debate about them and introduce them properly, with suitable public debate and scrutiny?

On this issue the Government - whose approach has now seemingly opened the door to potential law suits - needs to be open and honest. There's no need to hide behind jargon and bureaucratic nonsense. Just be open and have faith in the Irish people to have faith in their institutions.

Enniscorthy Guardian