Watchdog finds no legal basis for use of Public Services Card across public services

There is no legal basis for requiring the Public Services Card (PSC) to access many public services which now require it, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) has ruled.

The data protection watchdog has warned that the PSC, originally designed for welfare claimants, has become “far-removed from its original concept”.

Its development has “proceeded by way of one-off, piece-meal changes to existing social welfare legislation, resulting in a situation where, in our view, the approach to the project from a data protection perspective is lacking in coherence”, it said.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has been given 21 days to stop all processing of personal data carried out in connection with the issuing of PSCs where they are being issued solely for the purpose of a transaction between a member of the public and a body other than the Department.

It will also be required to contact those public bodies who require the production of a PSC as a pre-condition of entering into transactions with members of the public to notify them that the Department will no longer be in a position to issue PSCs to those people.

The Department of Social Protection will still be able to require the PSC from people trying to access some services directly administered by the Department.

The watchdog has ordered the Department to submit an implementation plan within six weeks detailing how it will change the PSC scheme to bring it in line with data protection legislation and the time period in which it will make those changes.

The DPC’s full report on the PSC scheme is likely to be published within seven days.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), which has campaigned against the expansion of the PSC scheme for years, welcomed the DPC’s ruling.

Elizabeth Farries, information rights programme manager at ICCL, said: “We support the immediacy of the DPC’s enforcement measures. They are appropriate given that the card lacks a legal basis, is unnecessary, and presents serious risks to the highly sensitive personal data it collects.

“The DPC findings are a disaster of the government’s own making. For years, ICCL has urged government to cease the roll out of the PSC due to human rights concerns, and pending the conclusions of this very investigation. Nonetheless, they continue to demand biometric information – in the form of the PSC – in exchange for essential services. And they continue to store that information unsafely in a database.”

Ms Farries said the findings are “a huge vindication of ICCL’s concerted efforts against the roll out of this card over the past two years”, as well as “a tribute to the small number of rights groups who focused on this issue and to the people who have been willing to forgo their benefits to challenge this illegal system”.

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