I propose to take Questions Nos. 1769, 1824, 1825, 1831, 1840, 1897 and 1898 together.
My colleague, Paschal Donohue T.D., Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and I briefed Government earlier this week on the recent report of the Data Protection Commission (DPC) on the Public Services Card (PSC).
We acknowledged the finding of the DPC that the PSC is validly required for the purposes of transactions with my Department. About 2.5m of the over 3m active users of the PSC are beneficiaries of my Department’s services, such as free transport and pension payments, and the DPC report confirms that both DEASP and its clients can continue to rely on the convenience of the PSC for these purposes. We also welcomed the DPC’s clarification that nothing in the report or findings undermines or invalidates the use of any PSCs already in issue. This is particularly welcome given the very high level of citizen satisfaction with, and support for, the PSC.
We also updated the Government on our consideration of the DPC’s other findings relating to the legal basis for the issue of the PSC for transactions with bodies other than DEASP and the transparency of information provided to people related to the PSC.
Following very careful consideration of the report and having taken the advice of the Attorney General’s Office, we informed Government that we are satisfied that the processing of personal data related to the PSC does, in fact, have a strong legal basis in current legislation, that the retention of data is lawful and that the information provided to users does satisfy the requirements of transparency. On this basis, we believe that it would be inappropriate, and potentially unlawful, to withdraw or modify the use of the PSC or the data processes that underpin it as has been requested by the DPC.
Accordingly, it is intended, in line with decisions of successive Governments dating back to 1998, to continue to operate the PSC and the SAFE 2 identity authentication process on which it is based.
We acknowledged that the DPC has reached a different conclusion but are satisfied based on our Departments’ consideration of the issue and the advice received from the Attorney General’s Office that the correct, and lawful, approach to take is to continue to provide, and support the use of, the PSC, not just by DEASP but by the other public bodies that rely on it.
My Department subsequently wrote to the DPC, on my behalf, advising it of this decision. It also offered, together with the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, to meet with the DPC to clarify a number of matters and to identify through this clarification and, without prejudice to the position either of the DPC or the Department, if there were steps that could be agreed that would address the DPC's concerns.
It was hoped, that, through this process, we might have been able to resolve the matters in question without any need to refer them to the Courts for a definitive decision. However, the DPC has now declined to engage in any discussions and has indicated its intention to institute enforcement proceedings.
My Department is now considering the next steps given that it understands that the DPC is initiating proceedings, which are subject to an appeals process in the Courts. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to make any further comment on this matter.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.