Legal experts want Minister to delay rollout of new Public Services Card

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is being asked to intervene in the dispute over the new Public Services Card.

A group of privacy law experts want Mr Flanagan to delay their rollout until there has been a public consultation on the matter.

Critics say the cards are an attempt to bring in a national identity database, but the Government insists they are not compulsory.

Solicitor Simon McGarr says if the Government wants to introduce an I.D. card, they need to be honest about it.

He said: “There should be a law passed, if that’s what the Government wants to do.

“The difficulty is that what the Government has done is, it has issued a fiat, an announcment that ‘unless you turn up and you get this card, you will not have access to the following Government services’, and they are not merely social welfare.”

Dublin MEP Brian Hayes today said that the Government is right to continue the rollout of the card.

Mr Hayes said: “I think it is right that a Public Service Card is required to access public services. Our methods of documenting citizens has become outdated and needs to be modernised.

“It makes public services more efficient and user friendly for everyone.”

The Fine Gael MEP has previously called for the introduction of a national ID card system, same as is present in the majority of EU Member States.

He said: “All 28 EU Member States except for Ireland, UK and Denmark issue their citizens with national identity cards with the majority of Member States making it compulsory to hold one. In many Member States the national ID card incorporates a person’s social security card, birth certificate, bank card and sometimes even driver’s license all into one.

“The Public Service Card is not compulsory but if you require a State service it is only right that you should be required to have it. A passport is not compulsory but if you want to travel to another country it is mandatory. A driving license is not compulsory but if you want to drive its mandatory. The Public Service Card is no different.”

He said the fears about data privacy surrounding the card are unfounded.

He said: “There has been a considerable amount of scaremongering recently which is unjustified. The Public Service Card has existed for five years and has been successful in reducing social welfare fraud as well as speeding up welfare applications.

“The bureaucracy associated with accessing public services is often criticised. Expanding the use of Public Service Cards will streamline state services making them more efficient for everybody.”

It comes as the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty says nearly 50 State bodies have access to the data identity set stored on the cards.

The Minister told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the chips on the cards have “the standard identity set that we’ve always used”.

These include the cardholder’s date of birth, place of birth, gender, nationality and a former surname – if you have one – as well as a photograph, signature, PPS number and expiry date on the front of the card.

She said: “All of that information is encrypted and no one can read that information from the card”.

She said the card, which is to ensure that people will only have to go through the SAFE (Standard Authentication Framework Environment) registration process only one time, is mandatory to access certain public services.

    A statement from the Department of Social Protection last week outlined the list of services for which the Public Services Card is a requirement:

  • Access to Social Welfare Services (including Child Benefit and Treatment Benefits)
  • First time adult passport applicants in the State
  • Replacement of lost, stolen or damaged passports issued prior to January 2005, where the person is resident in the State.
  • Citizenship applications
  • Driver Theory Test applications
  • Access to high value or personal online public services, e.g. Social Welfare and Revenue services, via MyGovId, the mechanism for accessing public services online

However, they said that the card did not have the typical characteristics of a national identity card.

    This includes:

  • A person is not required by law to register for a Public Services Card.
  • A person is not required by law to provide it to a member of the police force at their request, and an Garda Síochána is specifically precluded from requesting an individual to produce the card as proof of identity.
  • Bodies not specified in the legislation in either the public or private sector may not request the card or may not be required to use it in any transactions.

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