Department acknowledges no legal basis for mandatory Public Services Card to access services other than welfare

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection has acknowledged that there is no legal basis for people to be compelled to get a Public Services Card (PSC) for anything other than social welfare payments and benefits. 

The agreement comes as part of a pre-trial agreement that resolves a court appeal the Department was taking against a ruling by the Data Protection Commission (DPC). 

In a landmark ruling in 2019, the DPC had found that a PSC should not be required to receive State services such as obtaining a driver’s licence or passport.

The DPC said it a statement today that it welcomed the resolution of the proceedings.  

“In particular, it welcomes the fact that significantly enhanced levels of information are now being provided to citizens to explain (amongst other things) what personal data is processed when an individual applies for a PSC, how it is processed, and to what end, with further enhancements to follow on the basis of additional engagement between the parties,” the DPC said.

The DPC also welcomes the Department’s acknowledgment that, in the absence of legislation making specific provision for this, other public sector bodies cannot compel any individual to acquire a PSC as a precondition to the provision of access to public services. 

“Significant adjustments are also to be made to the Department’s approach to the retention of applicants’ personal information, it being recognised that a system founded on the blanket and indefinite retention of all of the information contained in documents submitted in support of a PSC application does not strike an appropriate balance between an applicant’s rights under data protection law, and such other interests as the Department seeks to protect.”

The Department had defended its right to process personal data related to the PSC, saying it had a “strong legal basis” to do so.

While the DPC says the Department will make “significant adjustments” to how it handles and retains data obtained as part of the PSC application process, the Department said in a statement today that its right to process data has been acknowledged.

“Under the agreement, it is acknowledged that the Department of Social Protection can continue to process personal data to authenticate a person’s identity and issue them with a PSC, which can be used for the purposes of accessing public services, both those provided by the Department and those provided by other public bodies,” the Department said in a statement. 

It is also acknowledged and accepted that the Department and other specified bodies can continue to use MyGovID as the sole means of authenticating identity for the purpose of accessing online services, provided that an alternative service channel is available. 

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said today that she was “pleased the latter had been resolved”. 

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“Most importantly, the agreement means that members of the public can continue to apply for their Public Services Card for the purposes of transacting with Government Departments, which has proven extremely useful given the increased online interaction during Covid,” she said. 

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