Public Services Card: Information retention has no impact on preventing welfare fraud - report

Public Services Card: Information retention has no impact on preventing welfare fraud - report

The Government’s policy of retaining its citizens’ personal information upon registration for a Public Services Card has no impact with regard to preventing welfare fraud, the PSC’s original purpose.

That is the finding of the Data Protection Commissioner’s long-awaited report into the card which was published this evening.

The Commissioner, Helen Dixon, said that “no evidence has been proffered”, save for a single case study, by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to show that such information, primarily utility bills, is necessary in order to identify identity fraud in the first place.

She said that she does not consider the Department’s statement that fraud cannot be prevented or prosecuted unless “source documents are retained for the lifetime of the customer” is “borne out by its submissions or evidence”.

The Commissioner further asserted that, despite claims that every person with a PSC is subject to the same standardised registration process, “the true position is that not everyone is in fact required to submit” to such standard registration, with certain “low risk” cases having been identified where the Department issued PSCs without a face to face meeting.

The Department has acquired 3.2 million such instances of personal information for each card issued, records which must now be destroyed per the Commissioner’s findings.

The Commissioner also noted that identity fraud is not among the top five instances of fraud-related overpayment in any of the past three years.

In 2017, €38.4 million worth of fraudulent cases, numbering 10,467 instances, were detailed by the Department. Just €894,000 of that figure was related to identity fraud. The Department’s annual budget stands as the largest of any body in the State at €20 billion.

Just 35 cases of identity fraud have been prosecuted to date in 2018.

Ms Dixon said that the controversial card has “remarkably little by way of meaningful real-world application”, and said that “notably” no public sector body has invested in the technology capable of reading the chip on the card, an inclusion which is understood to magnify the cost of each card unit by a factor of four.

The report’s eight findings, seven of which are adverse to the Department’s position, had been previously revealed by the Commissioner.

The high-level findings of the investigation are that it is unlawful to issue a PSC with regard to processing State services other than that of welfare, that the 3.2 million historical records were not being held for a valid reason, and that insufficient transparency had been demonstrated with regard to what the Department was actually doing with the personal data it had collected.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty responded to the report’s publication saying that she did not agree with the Commissioner’s findings, and would not be complying with them.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that it is “staggering” that the Minister is rejecting the report’s findings.

“We welcome the publication of the report,” a spokesperson for the DPC said.

“As previously stated the process of preparation of the enforcement notice is now underway.”

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