Department was advised by data consultancy not to use Public Services Card

Department was advised by data consultancy not to use Public Services Card

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was advised by a data protection consultancy not to use the Public Services Card as a mandatory requirement for accessing the new National Childcare Scheme as to do so would risk breaching the constitutional rights of children.

A data protection assessment regarding the best means of processing the data of partners of parents applying for the scheme was carried out in August 2018 by Wexford-based privacy consultancy Castlebridge.

That document, released to the Irish Examiner under freedom of information, repeatedly advised the Department not to proceed with the mandatory use of MyGovID, the online portal for the controversial PSC, in order to process such partners’ personal data, as to do so could materially affect the operation of the scheme should the legality of the card be successfully challenged.

The assessment further suggested that “there may be an argument in favour of not adopting MyGovID at all” in order to process partner data given that at that time the legal basis for the PSC was under investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner.

“Until the DPC concludes its formal investigation, we would advise a strong degree of caution in implementing a mandatory requirement for MyGovID registration in this context,” the report reads.

The final report into the card was delivered by the DPC last August. It ruled that requiring the PSC on a mandatory basis in order to access State services other than welfare is indeed unlawful.

Regarding the rights of the child, the Castlebridge report said that “a small but significant proportion of the population have objected to signing up for a PSC, and any forced sign-up could see DCYA failing to ‘protect and vindicate’ the ‘natural and imprescriptible rights of all children’”, per the text of the 2012 children’s rights referendum.

When queried about the Castlebridge document, the Department said the assessment “was a specific piece of work to examine a number of options relating to a specific scheme component” and “was not commissioned as a scheme level DPIA (Data Protection Impact Assessment)”.

A spokesperson added that the recommendation not to use MyGovID to verify a partner’s identity had been followed, given that as the scheme stands only one parent in a couple is required to be MyGovID-verified in order to apply online.

Contacted for comment, director of Castlebridge Daragh O’Brien said: “We conducted the analysis and presented our findings to the Department, I have no further comment to make other than what we put in our findings."

He added however that “any alternative process that puts children at a disadvantage would not be consistent with our recommendations”.

The National Childcare Scheme went live last November, after a series of prolonged delays, with the Department opting to use MyGovID as the sole means for parents to access State subsidies. An offline postal application scheme is not due to go live until late this month. Subsidies for such postal applications, meanwhile, will not be backdated, a fact which has led to accusations of discrimination against those parents who may object to getting a PSC but who are reliant on childcare payments.

In October the Irish Examiner revealed that an alternative method for applying for the new childcare scheme online, other than the PSC, was dropped by the Department of Children at the behest of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in January 2018.

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