The findings of a report by the 26 County Data Protection Commissioner into the government’s ‘Public Services Card’ has vindicated the concern of campaigners that it was geared towards a right-wing agenda of control and dehumanisation.
Since it was first planned in 1998, the card was regularly accorded new functions, feeding into a ‘big data’ program to monitor the lives of every Irish citizen. People were forced by the government to get the card to access services for which it was not needed.
Various Fine Gael Ministers who pushed the card included Paschal Donohoe, who posed next to a giant PSC card, as well as Regina Doherty, who infamously described the card in Orwellian terms as “mandatory but not compulsory”.
The government, which has so far spent €60m introducing the card, must now delete data held on 3.2 million citizens gathered as part of its rollout. According to the Data Protection Commissioner, there is no lawful basis for retaining it.
It is the latest embarrassment to a government which has come through a series of failures including the €2bn National Children’s Hospital fiasco, the €3bn national broadband debacle, and profound and continuing crises in housing and healthcare.
Regina Doherty, Minister for Social Protection, attempted to stymie the public outcry over the PSC failure by stalling for time. “We are going to consider the report and issue a full response as soon as we can,” she said.
No date has yet emerged for the publication of the report or a response. Doherty herself has been accused of “hiding away”. Civil rights groups have said they are considering class-action style cases.
“Someone forced to get a PSC in relation to a driving licence, or a passport, and they stated their opposition at the time and this was ignored, they certainly would be in a claim like that,” said Digital Rights Ireland chairman TJ McIntyre.
Sinn Féin TD for Wicklow John Brady said Minister Doherty was “in a very precarious situation. Hiding away and not answering questions is not helping the situation, but we will hold the minister to account and all options remain on the table,” he said.
Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane called for parliamentary hearings on the scandal.
“If there has ever been an issue for the Public Accounts Committee this is it,” he said.
“A huge amount of public money was spent over the years on the expansion of the Public Services Card into areas where it has no legal coherence or validity.
“There was also a stubborn refusal on the part of the Department of Social Protection to engage with the concerns raised by members of the public and by civil liberty groups.”
He added: “It is not as if they weren’t told time and time again that this would happen.”