Public service card debate; 'It's being done secretly, and by stealth'

Public service card debate; 'It's being done secretly, and by stealth'

Many questions have been raised in relation to public service cards recently, especially around the legality of the Government demanding them as a form of identification, writes Amy Ryan.

Dr Eoin O'Dell, Assistant Professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin, says that specifics about the legilsation for the card need to be discussed before the Department can make it mandatory.

"There are lots of good reasons for introducing a card like that but there are privacy concerns because those good reasons haven't been debated, they haven't been articulated by Government and they haven't been embodied in legislation," said Dr O'Dell.

He says that the Government are introducing the card by adding new uses for it which make it necessary for the public to register.

"It's being done secretly and by stealth, it's being done by increasing additional functions. People are being written to like you were, get your card pretty much with an implied 'or else'.

"None of this is being properly discussed in the Oireachtas, none of this is being properly discussed in public," he added.

It emerged last week that a pensioner in her 70s was not paid her State pension for 18 months after she refused to register for a public services card.

The card has been described by Ministers as not "compulsory" but "mandatory".

However, the elderly woman told The Irish Times that the Department of Social Protection cut off her payments when she refused to register for the card after the Department could not produce any evidence that the card was mandatory.

Legislation for the card was introduced in 2005 and was amended in 2013 so that the "Minister may require any specific named identification for the purposes authentification of identity."

This is the legislation that is being referred to by the Department of Social Protection when it is asked how it has the power to exclusively request the public service card as a form of identification.

Speaking to Drivetime with Mary Wilson on RTÉ Radio 1, Dr O'Dell said that the State can ask you to produce the public service card as a means of authenticating that you are who you say you are, but they cannot legally only accept this card as a means of ID.

"The legislation says, that any reasonable means to establish identity and the question is, does the legislation make the card the exclusive means? And it doesn't," said O'Dell.

There is no legislation to outline whether the data that is entered when registering for the card is stored and shared by the HSE.

This is the issue that privacy campaigners have been protesting against because it is unclear whether external bodies will have access to the data.

O'Dell argued that the Government should be upfront in what they're doing, upfront on the details and where details is being stored, and for it to be established in legislation.

"The democratic thing to do is to do it in legislation, to debate it in the Oireachtas , to persuade public opinion that it is done right, that it is done proportionately and necessarily and there would be no problem," he said.

On the Department's website, it says: "The availability of a secure and consistent citizen identity verification scheme is a requirement for the effective delivery of digital services, the reform of backend processes, the ability to effectively make policy decisions, the protection of personal data, and the interoperability with EU Member States in the context of citizen interaction."

The Department intends to begin the widespread adoption of the public service card infrastructure, including its online counterpart MyGovID as part of the successful delivery of the eGovernment strategy.

It will shortly be required for all passport and driving licence applications as well as a number of other services outlined below.

Public service card debate; 'It's being done secretly, and by stealth'


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