Lawyer: Personal Services Cards may pave way for compensation claims

Paschal Donohoe with a representation of the public services card.

Around 3m people who have been issued Personal Services Cards (PSC) could be entitled to claim compensation from the State, a legal expert has claimed.

An Oireachtas Committee has heard that the card, which is now required to access a growing number of services, may not be compliant with EU data protection laws.

Campaigners maintain there is a risk that people’s personal information could be stolen unless proper safeguards are in place.

Solicitor Simon McGarr from Data Compliance Europe said he is “attempting to sound the alarm” as the card, which has cost the State €60m to introduce to date, has “a significant uncrystallised liability”.

“When I hear that the department has issued 3m cards that means, if I’m correct and the card is not in compliance with EU law, that we have a 3m-person contingent liability, because people have been told that they have to get the card,” said Mr McGarr.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties also expressed “grave concerns” over the use of the PSC which they said should be abandoned when they appeared before the Oireachtas Employment Affairs and Social Protection Committee yesterday.

The PSC was first rolled-out in 2012, and initially was used to access jobseekers’ benefit. 

However, since last summer it has become a requirement when applying for a driver theory test or a first-time passport, as well as social welfare payments.

ICCL executive director Liam Herrick said the card should be suspended until an investigation is carried out by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).

Mr Herrick told committee members that the card has “a disproportionate interference with privacy”.

He said the move to widen the number of services for which the card is a requirement to access “fundamentally alters the nature of the scheme” and gave the example of a woman who had her State pension cut after refusing to register for the card last year.

Liam Herrick
Liam Herrick

“As the scheme takes on more attributes of a mandatory and compulsory national card, the PSC disproportionately affects those who are most reliant on public services, such as people in unemployment, pensioners, and students who need state support in order to access third level education,” he said.

“Ordinary people have asked the Government what the legal basis for the card is and received no answer.”

Mr Herrick added that the ICCI is “not convinced” that the card is necessary.

However, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty defended the roll-out of the PSC.

“Times are changing, technology is changing, what used to be acceptable is no longer,” Ms Doherty told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. 

She added that the use of the card and the SAFE2 (Standard Authentication Framework Environment) system is “a more thorough process” which is helping to combat welfare fraud.

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