From top: The Public Service Card; Irish Rail train; Sean Fleming TD
At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
Chairman of the committee Laois Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming referred back to a matter he raised at the end of last week’s committee meeting.
The matter concerned a constituent, their Public Services Card and Iarnród Éireann.
Yesterday Mr Fleming said , after receiving further correspondence on the matter, it appears the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection:
“has details with regard to 900,000 people, including every State pensioner in the country, on every time they use public transport and every trip they take“.
Mr Fleming said:
“Towards the end of the meeting, I raised the issue of a person who continued to use an expired free travel card. The person should not have done so because social welfare payments had ceased.
However, the travel card element of the public services card had not been cancelled and the person continued to use it.
After several months, the card was confiscated at Heuston Station when it did not work in the turnstile to leave the station. Afterwards, the person received a fine from Irish Rail for €1,000 for not having the correct ticket.
So far so good, but this raises data protection issues. The person, whom I dealt with over the summer, told me the issue of how Irish Rail got the individual’s name and address had already been raised with the Data Protection Commissioner.
There is no dispute with regard to the amount but there is a data protection issue.
Arising from our meeting last week, on Friday I received a very interesting email, as did the Comptroller and Auditor General, from a person with regard to a use of the public services card I had not really thought about until now.
If this is happening we really need it to be clarified. On the public services card is a photo, the person’s PPS number is on the back, and there is also the person’s signature.
The card also shows a date until which it is valid. On the front it may have the letters FT to signify free travel, or it may have the letters FT+S to signify the person’s spouse can accompany him or her for free.
The individual – [journalist and activist Martin McMahon] who sent the card used it on the Luas in Dublin and on one of the major bus companies, not Dublin Bus.
When the public services card goes through the ticket machine information is recorded and the individual got curious about what is recorded when the public services card is given to private transport companies.
The person tracked it down and eventually received a letter back from the National Transport Authority, NTA, because the bus operator and Luas said it was nothing to do with them and that the person should contact the NTA.
In recent days, we received a copy of the letter sent to the individual by the NTA.
The NTA states that when a person uses the card none of the person’s information on the card is recorded but every card has a number – not the PPS number – that the transport companies have.
This allows the companies to claim payment. I know there are also lump sum grants but perhaps Iarnród Éireann is slightly different.
This number records all of the trips and journeys made by card holder.
The rail company does not have the person’s name and address or other details but it sends the number to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection where it can be matched to the person’s PPS number.
The NTA states only the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection knows the PPS number and the individualised anonymous number held by the transport companies.
The Department does not provide this information to anyone.
As far as public transport is concerned, all the NTA knows is that the number has been used but not who used it or anything about the person using the card and it is entirely anonymous.
The email also states that when the public services card is presented at the ticketing machine, it records that a journey has been taken and assigns the value of the fare forgone to the record, which is stored in the ticket machine.
The information held by the transport company is the ID, which is the number on the card, the date and time of the journey, the route number and the fare forgone, which is the adult single fare.
The data is then uploaded to the back office system and subsequently made available to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The purpose of recording the information is so the transport operator can record overall passenger numbers and overall usage and also be able to make a claim for reimbursement from the Department in respect of services delivered to free travel pass holders.
It appears that when the information comes back from the travel company the Department of Employment Affair and Social Protection has details with regard to 900,000 people, including every State pensioner in the country, on every time they use public transport and every trip they take.
The allegation in the email is that the person did not know the State had such mass surveillance systems in place.
I do not think people knew the card and the Department could obtain details on every trip taken.
I can see why from a financial position but from a data protection point of view I can see that people were not aware that this is the case.
We will write to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to clarify this particular issue on whether it has a record of all of the travel taken.”
Transcript via Kildarestreet.com
Data Commissioner Helen Dixon
Via The Irish Examiner:
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) is facing a possible investigation and potential €1m fines over the mandatory requirement to hold a public services card in order to access the new National Childcare Scheme.
….That requirement is perceived as being at odds with the DPC’s recent finding that mandating citizens to hold a PSC in order to access State services other than welfare is illegal…
….Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner revealed that DCYA had initially envisaged a second online portal for people without a PSC to apply for the scheme, which would have removed any GDPR concerns.
However, the department was firmly overruled by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform — the body with responsibility for the PSC’s expansion to services other than welfare — which informed it in January 2018 that “MyGovID alone” should be the only means for accessing the new childcare scheme…