State refuses to release information on Public Services Card probe

15 Jan 2019

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The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has refused to release information on the Data Protection Commissioner’s investigation into the Public Services Card.

A request brought by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) for information regarding the investigation into the Public Services Card (PSC) has been declined by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP).

The request from the ICCL was submitted under freedom-of-information legislation, asking the Department to release an interim report investigating the PSC drafted by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC).

The Department rejected the request, stating that releasing the report would be “contrary to the public interest”, according to the ICCL. Other issues cited by the Department include the possibility of people becoming aware of “a significant decision that the body proposes to make”.

ICCL wants all the details on the PSC

Director of the ICCL, Liam Herrick, said: “ICCL is calling for full transparency on the legal basis for the Public Services Card because it violates the privacy and data protection rights of people living in Ireland.”

Herrick added that the ICCL has been campaigning against the introduction of the PSC “because it’s unnecessary, costly and of questionable efficacy – and it targets in particular economically vulnerable people, such as those dependant on social welfare”. He continued: “Further, it is deeply troubling that the Government has continued to roll the card out for essential services while a question hangs over its legality.”

The ICCL intends to appeal the rejection of the request to the Information Commissioner, with Herrick adding that the organisation believes “that the public has an immediate right to know what decisions are being taken behind closed doors about our privacy”.

Calling on ODPC to publish full report

According to the ICCL, the ODPC intends to publish a summary of its report investigating the PSC, as opposed to the entire document. It called on the ODPC to publish the entire report. Herrick said: “The fact that the DPC initiated an investigation in October 2017 into the legal basis for the Public Services Card is significant in itself and ICCL would call for full transparency, and indeed urgency, in releasing the entire report to the public as soon as it is ready.”

In October 2017, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon launched a formal probe into the legal basis for the PSC. Head of communications for the ODPC, Graham Doyle, told The Irish Times that the office had furnished the DEASP with a draft report with 13 provisional findings on the PSC in August 2018. He added that the Department had sent the ODPC submissions related to the findings and the report is now being finalised.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects