PSC fall-out: Department of Social Protection accused of ‘mass surveillance’

PSC fall-out: Department of Social Protection accused of ‘mass surveillance’

A complaint has been made to the Data Protection Commissioner accusing the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection of engaging in “mass surveillance” with regard to the collation of data from the free travel pass variant of the Public Services Card.

The complainant, Martin McMahon, from Dublin, noted when travelling with his own travel pass that his rights were being breached under the General Data Protection Regulation as his movements were being ‘recorded’ each time he scanned the pass when boarding public transport.

“Prior to the introduction of the PSC travel pass, all I had to do was show my old pass to the driver,” Mr McMahon said in his complaint.

I was never informed that the PSC travel pass records my ID and the exact details of my journey which is ultimately sent to the DEASP by the National Transport Authority. This mass surveillance is really shocking.

The NTA, responding to Mr McMahon upon being queried as to the information it was recording, said that all data collated each time a travel pass is scanned — which includes a hidden identifier number encoded on the card, the travel route number, the date and time of the journey, and the value of the fare — is anonymous as far as public transport is concerned when it is subsequently delivered to Social Protection, the State body with responsibility for administering the card project.

“The purpose of recording this information is so that the transport operator can record overall passenger numbers and overall usage information and also to be able to make a claim for reimbursement from the DEASP in respect of services delivered to free travel pass holders,” the authority said.

The NTA told the Irish Examiner that the authority can not identify a cardholder from any of the information it gathers. “Only the DEASP (Social Protection) knows which PSC card has been assigned which number. DEASP does not provide this information to anyone,” the NTA told Mr McMahon.

The department did not respond to a request for comment regarding the nature of the data sharing in place between itself and the NTA.

However, it is the fact the data is being shared in the first place that may leave it open to data protection questions.

“It is not necessary or proportionate, which are two strikes against it straight away,” privacy solicitor Simon McGarr said regarding the data sharing detailed in the complaint.

“We know it’s not necessary for the free travel scheme because they’ve run it in the past without requiring it, and if it’s not necessary then it’s not proportionate,” he added.

Those facts are embedded in the charter of the GDPR and all the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU — that processing cannot be legal unless it’s necessary and proportionate.

The NTA is expected to face questioning on this issue when it comes before the Public Accounts Committee this morning to discuss its 2018 financial statements.

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