Driver theory test, passport renewal, welfare claims: just a few vital services of which you will not be able to avail unless you register for a Public Services Card (PSC). Launched in 2011 for use by welfare recipients, the PSC has been forced slowly into use by a large, and still growing, number of government departments.
Paraded as part of the toolkit to combat fraud and improve the efficient provision of public services, civil rights campaigners have lamented what some view as the introduction of a mandatory national ID card ‘by the backdoor.’ Ireland, Denmark, and the UK (excluding Gibraltar) are currently the only EU member states not to issue national ID cards to their citizens. Presentation of an ID, strictly in the form of the PSC, is required to claim pension payments. Failure to produce a PSC, rather than a driver’s licence or a passport, has resulted in payments to a woman in her 70s being refused and back-payments denied, regardless of whether she registers for a PSC in the future.
“New legislation and the wide scope of services available proves that the PSC is intended to be more than just a remedy against welfare fraud.”
New legislation and the wide scope of services available prove that the PSC is intended to be more than just a remedy against welfare fraud. Legislation coming down the tracks contains a provision which allows people the option to include their date of birth on the card and use it as a valid form of ID outside of entities listed in the Act, something which is currently illegal. The list of entities which have access to your information encompass a plethora of areas and stages of life. It includes the HSE, multiple educational institutions such as universities, technical colleges, the CAO and the Higher Education Authority, as well as the National Treasury Management Agency and the Revenue Commissioners.
Notwithstanding access to public services, the card should either be a valid form of ID, or it should not. The Government’s insistence that this is going to be some form of quasi-ID, while also remaining a necessity for public services, undermines what is their true, and legitimate, aim: a mandatory national ID system which streamlines data collection across public services. The Data Protection Commissioner’s calls for transparency regarding mandatory use of the card have emphasised this failure to come clean. What is clearly meant as a compulsory, single point-of-contact between individuals and the state has been poorly masqueraded as a potentially convenient option.
“The Government’s insistence that this is going to be some form of quasi-ID, while also remaining a necessity for public services, undermines what is their true, and legitimate, aim.”
Regarding the end-goal of the PSC, the format of the card speaks for itself. During registration, a photo of the user is taken in such a manner as to allow verification software to identify and confirm that the presenter is who they claim to be. There’s no denying that explicit incentives exist for the Government to make the card compulsory for every citizen. Curbs in welfare fraud, less bureaucracy at bottlenecked services, and alleged security benefits aside, the exchequer will receive a 5% discount on the cost of the cards if 3 million cards are produced before the end of the year. By playing coy with their intentions, the Government is setting the stage for a stronger public backlash in the future. Despite emphasising that the PSC will only include a date of birth if the user chooses, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty’s failure to reveal the true intention of the PSC has painted the picture of a department giddy with excitement over their new toy, but without direction.
This is unforgivable, as the foundations for the PSC lie in legislation from 2005. Officials have had more than enough time to discuss the final scope and use of the PSC, and it would be naïve to think that they haven’t done so. Speaking on Newstalk recently, Ms Doherty described the card as mandatory, but not compulsory, a distinction she may come to regret making.
The fudge on the Government’s part could be put down to concerns over whether the legal foundations for a national ID card already exist, rather than a card solely for availing of public services, and whether the collection and processing of data on Irish citizens is within the boundaries of EU data protection and privacy regulations. Officials have firmly placed their heads in the sand and must be hoping that the public will naturally develop an affinity to having a broad spectrum of data being held on them and potentially having to produce an ID on request.