Saturday, August 26, 2017

Letter regarding the Public Services Card

I'm very grateful to my colleagues who have signed a letter expressing concern at the growing use of the (supposedly optional) public services card as a mandatory requirement for essentials as passports and social welfare, creating a de facto national ID card or Ireland without public debate.

The full text of the letter and the signatories are below.

Minister for Justice and Equality
Department of Justice
St Stephen’s Green
Dublin 2

25 August 2017

Public Services Card

Dear Minister

We are researchers in the areas of information technology, information security, privacy, data protection and fundamental rights. We write on our own behalf rather than on behalf of our respective institutions.

We refer to the public services card (PSC) and its increasing use in relation to public services. We note in particular the intent to turn the PSC, which was originally intended to be used for specified public service purposes only, into a general purpose identity card to be used in a wide variety of contexts under the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017.

We note that in 2015 the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, made the following statement:

“The question of the introduction or otherwise of a national identity card was not part of SAFE’s [the scheme of which the Public Services Card is part] remit. The matter of establishing a national identity index and producing a national identity card is a wider issue. It would require due consideration by the appropriate agencies before any policy decisions could be formulated by Government and would require the development and implementation of legislation to support any such policy. Development of policy in this area would be led by the Minister for Justice and I am not aware of any current plans for her to do so.”

We also note that it is now being made effectively compulsory to have the PSC in order to carry on ordinary business in our society (for example to get a driving licence or a passport).

The Irish Times of 22nd August reports that a pensioner has had her state pension withheld for querying the legal basis for requirement she obtain a PSC, and the statement by the Department of Social Protection on the matter suggests they consider the card to be mandatory to access basic entitlements:

“It was not possible for a person to satisfy the minister as to his or her identity without being registered in a process which ‘results in them being issued with a public services card’”.

We note that the Department of Social Protection is now writing to social welfare recipients stating:

“Registration for the Public Services Card is now a legal requirement for people in receipt of social welfare payments (including Child Benefit) or free travel entitlements.”

We are not aware of any such legal requirement.

The Department of Social Protection website outlines an array of public services for which similar mandatory uses of this voluntary card are proposed, many of which appear to lack any legal basis.

It would appear that the time has now come where a national identity card is essentially on the table, and it is time for policy decisions in relation to this matter.

However, to date, there has been no public engagement in relation to the development of policy for a national identity card.

Our concern is that as a result, we are sleepwalking into developing a national identity index and national identity card in all else but name, and that we have not considered the very important implications before doing so.

We call on you now to engage with the public for the development of policy on this matter, and for there to be a real debate on the issue. We request that you recommend that further expansion of the PSC be delayed and that Head 6 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill not be enacted until this matter has been aired and policy considered in depth.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Graham Butler
Aarhus University

Professor Robert Clark
Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin (Emeritus)

Dr. Vicky Conway
School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

Dr. Stephen Farrell
School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Alan Greene
Durham Law School

Professor Steve Hedley
School of Law, University College Cork

Brian Honan
CEO, BH Consulting

Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh
School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology

Dr. Rónán Kennedy
School of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway

Professor Maeve McDonagh
School of Law, University College Cork

Dr. TJ McIntyre
Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin

Dr. Maria Helen Murphy
Department of Law, Maynooth University

Daragh O'Brien
Founder, Castlebridge

Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan
School of Law, University College Cork

Dr. Katherine O'Keefe
Consultant, Castlebridge

Professor Barry O'Sullivan
Insight Centre for Data Analytics, University College Cork

Dr. Johnny Ryan
Head of Ecosystem, Pagefair

Dr. Liam Thornton
Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin

Dr. Darius Whelan
School of Law, University College Cork

Cc: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection

[Since the original letter was sent additional individuals have signed on, and the first paragraph has been modified slightly to reflect that not all are primarily academics.]

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