From top: Public Services Card, Data Protection Commission, panel on last night’s The Tonight Show, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty; Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates; Executive Director of Irish Council for Civil Liberties Liam Herrick
Further to the Department of Social Protection lodging an appeal against an enforcement notice handed down by the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to the controversial Public Services Card…
Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty told journalists that the department hopes the court case will be “done and dusted by March”.
The appeal challenges the findings of a two-year investigation into the card by the Data Protection Commissioner.
The commissioner Helen Dixon found there is no legal basis for anyone to have to present a Public Services Card in respect of any transaction between a person and a public body outside Ms Doherty’s department – such as obtaining a drivers’ licence, passport, education grants, etc.
She also found that the supporting information that 3.2 million card holders had to hand over in order to get their card – such as utility bills, proof of ID, etc – must be destroyed.
Last night, Ms Doherty was on the panel of Virgin Media One’s The Tonight Show with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates.
Also on the panel was Executive Director of Irish Council for Civil Liberties Liam Herrick, Solidarity–People Before Profit TD Bríd Smyth and Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers.
From their discussion about the card which has cost the State €68million-plus to date…
Matt Cooper: “Regina Doherty, why are you doing this? The Data Protection Commission is an independent office, set up to do an important job and you have undermined it by appealing against an important decision it has made.”
Regina Doherty: “Yeah, I don’t think we’ve undermined the office and it isn’t the first time that we’ve appealed a decision and it certainly isn’t the first time other decisions from the commission’s office have been appealed.
“And the reason we have to appeal it is we don’t agree with the findings of the report in August. We don’t agree with the recommendations in the enforcement notice that was issued to us in December…”
Cooper: “Which is to destroy all of the information that you have assembled?”
Doherty: “Ehm. No. Because there is a difference between the report in August, the enforcement notice in December and a number of letters that happened between August and September.
“And so on the basis that we firmly believe that the route we’ve taken, and successive previous governments have been taken, with regard to the introduction of the legislation that supports the card. We’re gonna challenge the findings and see what a court has to say, so…”
Ivan Yates: “Couldn’t you have avoided all of this if you took the policy decision some time ago and said, upfront to the nation, we’re going to have a national ID card. We’re going to provide a comprehensive legal basis for it, instead of trying to do it by creep, through the Department of Social Protection…”
Doherty: “But you see the problem with that…”
Yates: “And adding on these other things?”
Doherty: “But no, the problem with that, Ivan, is that it isn’t a national identity card. And so I agree with you. I think if there was any government that wanted to introduce a national identity card – for the record, I don’t agree with them and I don’t support one – but if I was of a mind, or a government was of a mind that they wanted to do that, yeah, they should have a public consultation and they should bring forward legislation and have, you know, a proper conversation about it.
“But this isn’t a national identity card. You can’t even use it as a national identity card…
Talk over each other
Cooper: “But hang on, haven’t you got it by stealth?”
Doherty: “…in any other form, you know, other than you access in government services.”
Cooper: “But hold on, your idea was, not just for claiming your social welfare entitlements…”
Doherty: “No it wasn’t…”
Cooper: “That was the initial idea…and then you were asked…”
Doherty: “Actually it wasn’t…”
Cooper: “…if you’re going for your driver’s licence or renewing your passport. And if you didn’t have it…I mean you had this line that ‘It wasn’t compulsory but it was mandatory’.”
Doherty: “Yeah, and actually…”
Cooper: “Explain the difference to me between mandatory and compulsory.”
Doherty: “Well actually, of the original findings that the Data Protection Commission offered us in August, she upheld the fact that it isn’t compulsory but it is mandatory for certain social welfare services and that’s what I had said a number of years ago.”
Later – after Ms Doherty said 3.2million people are using the cards “on a very regular basis” and that they have a choice not to use them because “there’s a route for all of the services in a paper-based route”…
Liam Herrick: “I disagree that what we have now [the PSC] doesn’t have all of the attributes of a national identity system. And I’m very surprised with the minister again repeating again what she said in the Oireachtas recently – that there’s always been alternative routes to getting these public services, other than the Public Services Card.
“That’s simply just not the case. The Passport Office required the Public Services Card until a couple of months ago where they changed their policy. The Road Safety Authority required the Public Service Card until a year ago when the Road Safety Authority changed its policy of requiring it for the driver theory test.
Doherty: “But that’s not true, Liam.”
Herrick: “Well. It’s not just me that’s saying it.”
Doherty: “The Road Safety Authority did change their mind but they never had a policy and changed the policy. They changed their mind from introducing it in the first instance which is entirely different.”
Later – after Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers said Ms Doherty’s department has “shown total contempt” for the office of the DPC and asked Ms Doherty why her department won’t publish the legal advice that it received in light of the DPC’s report…
Doherty: “We spent two years engaging with the public, or the Data Protection Commission, so to say that we didn’t engage is not true. Two full years we spent engaging with the commission. Since the report was issued to us in August, on the 15th of August, we have written to the commission probably four, maybe five, times, looking to engage further and those engagement requests have been refused.
“And so I’m not sure what else you would have me do, to try and get clarification and seek…”
Cooper: “Sorry, didn’t you have the report for long before last August?”
Doherty: “No, I’m sorry, we didn’t. We got the report on the 15th of August. It’s actually, it’s quite difficult to have a conversation with people when they don’t even know the facts. But the simple fact of the matter is that we have a different view and our understanding of the legislation differs from the view of the Data Protection Commissioner.
“Two people have different views of a piece of legislation, we’re quite happy to defend our view in the Circuit Court.
“It certainly won’t be millions and millions and millions of euro…It certainly won’t be millions of euro.”
Herrick: “This is a question about law. It’s not about having opinions about a piece of legislation. The Data Protection Commission is the statutory body which is mandated by law, by primary statute to adjudicate on questions of data protection. And it’s made a binding finding.
“And the Government hasn’t liked that finding. And now starts to refer to is as if it’s some type of discretionary opinion. This is of enormous significance because…”
Yates: “Bríd. You’re a common sense woman. Can I put it to you? What’s on this, your PPS number, your date of birth and a photograph of ya? Like where is this Big Brother fear? If it accesses a more efficient way of getting public services and as we become more computerised and more software [inaudible] … surely it’s a kind of common sense provision?”
Smith: “Well you’re making the argument that the minister makes quite frequently in the Dáil when this issue is raised…”
Smith: “I think the Government want to send out a message to big data, globally, that this state is a safe pair of hands for the big operators like Google and Amazon and all the rest of it to do their data business in. They don’t want heavy regulation on data, they want light-touch regulation…”
Herrick: “I think the Public Services Card is fundamentally flawed and it’s not just the reports we’ve had up to now. There’s ongoing investigations into the biometric nature of the card. Bizarrely, the Government is saying the card isn’t a biometric card…”
Cooper: “Sorry, explain, what does that mean?”
Herrick: “It means that it’s processing biological information – in this case, a high-resolution photograph which can be processed and, using facial recognition technology, match against a database…”
Yates: “Ah here.” [puts head in right hand].
Cooper: “You love that type of stuff, don’t you?” [to Yates].
Yates: “Give us a break, Liam. The fact of the matter is if I produce my driver’s licence, it has my photograph on it. My passport, like don’t make it sound like Big Brother, oh my god, my privacy has been breached because of a photograph.”
Herrick: “I’m actually telling you what’s, the scientific description that was on the Government’s tender document that went out in the first place. And the company that makes the cards was originally called Biometric Card Services. And now the Government is denying it’s a biometric system. There’s another investigation…”
Yates: “It’s a photograph. Let’s call it what it is.”
Doherty: “It is a simple photograph. It’s exactly the same photograph that’s on your driving licence, it’s on your passport, it’s no different…”
Herrick: “It’s part of a database that’s shared across all Government departments.”
Herrick: “In the lead up to the election, whoever that’s going to be, we’ll be calling on all political parties to make a commitment not to dig ourselves into this any deeper and to step back.
“If we’re concerned about identity systems. Let’s start by reviewing what we already have. The passport and the driver’s licence work perfectly effectively in proving people’s identity. This is a project that’s just got out of control.”
Doherty: “Oh. My. God.”
Herrick: “And it’s a real shame that the Government is compounding, you know, mistakes, misrepresentations on top of each other at this stage and compounding it with legal fees on top of the money that’s been wasted.”
Watch back in full here
Previously: House of Card
Lawyer and Information Rights Programme Manager for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Elizabeth Farries
Lawyer and Information Rights Programme Manager for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Elizabeth Farries tweeted in response to Ms Doherty’s comments on The Tonight Show last night.
Ms Farries tweeted:
“The Irish Council for Civil Liberties joined The Tonight Show yesterday to discuss the Public Services Card.
The minister [Regina Doherty] also appeared and said it’s “difficult to have a conversation with people when they don’t even know the facts.” Respectfully, we know the facts.
The minister said “Of course they have a choice” about the PSC.
Fact: Our right “to access an ever-increasing range of public services has, in effect, been made conditional upon production of a PSC” (DPC, at p21) What kind of “choice” is that?
Many have reported their lack of choice regarding the PSC.
Remember: The person denied a pension.
The teacher denied benefits after breaking her ankle.
The firefighter denied a passport.
The minister said the card involves a simple photograph.
Fact. It’s not simple. The photo is processed using facial recognition technology software for comparison against a database. See the department’s own report.
Not worried about facial recognition technology? You should be. It’s inaccurate, insecure, and destroys our privacy. This is why other governments are banning it.
The minister said this is simply a case that “two people have different views”.
Fact. This is untrue. The minister is not arguing with a political view.
The Data Protection Commissioner is the independent regulator, with the authority to make binding decisions on Government.
The problems with the Public Services Card don’t disappear simply because they are misrepresented.
The PSC is a facial recognition project that significantly violates our data protection and privacy rights.
Join us in fighting this illegal scheme today!”