State declines to publish DPC report into public services card

14 Jan 2019 / home affairs Print

State declines to air DPC public services card probe

The Department of Social Protection has declined to release information regarding the investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) into the public services card, in part because it may “be contrary to the public interest”.

The request was brought by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) under freedom of information legislation. 

The detailed response from the Department of Social Protection to the ICCL request relies on sections 29(1), 30(1), 32 (1)(c), 35 and 37(1) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Refusal

Among other issues, these sections include grounds for refusal of a request based on “public interest” or that the “requester concerned would thereby become aware of a significant decision that the body proposes to make”.

ICCL director Liam Herrick said that the organisation 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.

The ICCL also believes the card is not a necessary or proportionate system for achieving its aim.

“We have been campaigning against its introduction because it’s unnecessary, costly, and of questionable efficacy – and it targets in particular economically vulnerable people, such as those dependent on social welfare,” he said.

The ICCL’s 2017 annual report acknowledges that the right to privacy under the Irish Constitution and European and international human rights laws “is not absolute, and that the State may interfere with personal privacy in certain circumstances in the public interest.”

Privacy

The ICCL says the key questions regarding the public services card are whether this systematic interference with personal privacy is in compliance with the basic requirements of the Constitution, EU law and ECHR law, given the card’s related biometric database.

In October 2017, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon launched a formal probed into the legal basis for the public services card.

This report was presented in draft form to the Department in August 2018.

The ICCL termed the continued rollout of the card “deeply troubling”, given that a question hangs over its legality. The ICCL believes that the card is a disproportionate interference in personal privacy.

ICCL will appeal the refusal to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Meanwhile, Doireann Ansbro, formerly of the International Commission of Jurists, has joined the ICCL as a research and policy officer. 

Clarification: the original version of this article was edited on Wednesday, 23 January 2018.

Following clarification on the matter, a reference to ICCL being “funded in part by the Open Society Foundation (OSF), led by billionaire George Soros” was removed.

The Gazette apologises for any misunderstanding that may have arisen as a result.

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