A €9.4 million project to develop the second generation of the controversial Public Services Card is set for completion in January of next year, it has been confirmed.
The new card went out to tender in Feb 2018 before being awarded to Security Card Concepts - a Wicklow-based company formerly known as Biometric Card Services and the producer of the original card - in July of that year.
The award came some 10 months after the launch of a Data Protection Commissioner investigation into the legality of the card project. Last month the Commissioner announced the findings of that investigation, which include the assertion that the use of the card for State services such as passport applications is illegal. The final report of the investigation has yet to be published.
“Development work on this project has been ongoing and is on target for completion in January 2020,” a Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection spokesman told the Irish Examiner regarding the new iteration of the card.
The awarded tender allowed for the predicted cost of producing 2.6 million additional cards. More than 3.2 million PSCs have been issued to date, at a cost of at least €60 million.
The PSC was first introduced in 2011 for accessing certain social welfare payments before being expanded as a requirement for other services, such as passport applications, from Sept of 2013. The current card has a seven-year lifespan. The new generation was conceived in order to cater for people whose card had expired, and also those who may have turned 18 or 66 since their card was first issued.
The second-generation PSC is expected to closely model the functionality of its predecessor, albeit with a host of ‘additional features’ included, designed to take advantage of the rise of contactless technology since the original unit’s inception at the start of the decade.
Some of those features specified in the tender include the ability of the card to double as a EU residency permit and, should the cardholder so wish, for their date of birth to be displayed on the card.
The original PSC contained a standard chip, identical to that of an ATM card, on which the private data of an individual (including their address, gender, date of birth, and PPS no.) was stored, a duplication of much of the same information held on the card’s magnetic strip.
However this chip was never actually used in practice - possibly due to the non-availability of specialised readers for it - despite adding significantly to the production cost of the card. Since at least the first quarter of 2019, those chips are no longer included on issued PSCs.
Two specialist card-producing companies wrote to the Department in March and April of 2018 saying they would not be applying for the tender, despite having intended to do so, as they believed the tender requirements gave Security Card Concepts “an unfair advantage”. Security Card Concepts was the only bidder for the second generation tender.
The Department claims that about €2.5 million in welfare fraud savings, one of the principle reasons for the initial introduction of the PSC, have been achieved since it was first issued eight years ago.