Public Services Card bodies to discuss how best to approach Data Commissioner advice

A number of the bodies involved in the Public Services Card expansion have said they will be talking to the Department of Social Protection on how best to approach the Data Protection Commissioner's recent adverse ruling in relation to the card.

Public Services Card bodies to discuss how best to approach Data Commissioner advice

A number of the bodies involved in the Public Services Card expansion have said they will be talking to the Department of Social Protection on how best to approach the Data Protection Commissioner's recent adverse ruling in relation to the card.

Last Friday the Commissioner Helen Dixon ruled that it is unlawful for the PSC to be used as an administrative tool for any State services other than welfare. She ordered the State to delete all the historical personal data held on the card’s 3.2 million holders.

The majority of those bodies which use the PSC - which include the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the Department of Education, and the Revenue Commissioners - said that the card is no longer a requirement for availing of their services when asked by the Irish Examiner.

The RSA, which made an abortive attempt in early 2018 to make the card mandatory in order to apply for driving licences and driving tests, said it would be “consulting with both the Department of Transport and the Department of Social Protection before taking any further steps”.

A spokesperson for Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), the body with responsibility for administering student grants, confirmed the PSC is not a requirement for applying for a grant and also said it would “act on any advice received from the Department of Social Protection regarding the future use of its MyGovID (the online portal for PSC holders) service”.

However, data protection experts here have urged individual bodies to get their own legal advice regarding the DPC’s decision rather than relying on guidance from Social Protection.

“It is most important that all agencies who are using the PSC realise that they are individually implicated by this ruling, and are at risk of claims,” said Simon McGarr, a solicitor specialising in privacy matters. “In any event, getting guidance from the Department of Social Protection didn’t do those bodies much good originally.

At the core of this is the fact that every state body is obliged to decide for itself if something is counter to EU law, and to disapply legislation on its own initiative if it believes that is the case.

Mr McGarr cited the decision of the Court of Justice of the EU last November regarding Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission which decreed that individual bodies must take EU law as having precedence over Irish law.

“These agencies need to be getting their own legal advice independent of Welfare’s position,” Mr McGarr said.

Just two bodies - the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the Passport Office - declined to say the PSC is no longer a requirement when queried. INIS said it is “studying” the DPC’s decision and would “comply with the necessary requirements as they pertain to citizenship by naturalisation”, while the Passport Service said it is “reviewing” its documentary requirements for first-time applicants.

A government source said it is “too early to say” whether or not the PSC would be pulled as legitimate documentation for applying for a passport.

The Minister declined to respond to a request for comment.

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