Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Ceisteanna (35)

Willie O'Dea


35. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has received an enforcement notice from the Data Protection Commissioner in respect of the public services card, PSC; if the course of action she will take has been decided; if enforcement proceedings have been issued; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50497/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Employment)

I remind Deputies that there is six and a half minutes for each question: 30 seconds for the Deputy to introduce, two minutes for the Minister, a supplementary from the Deputy, a further minute for the Minister, a final supplementary, and a final reply from the Minister. I ask all Members to try and keep within these guidelines and I appreciate that some of the answers are long.

I will not take up my 30 seconds. We discussed this question on the previous occasion on which the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection took questions and it was discussed subsequently at the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I have put down the question to find out if there is any update or has she received an enforcement notice yet.

To date, the Data Protection Commission, DPC, has not issued an enforcement notice, although I understand that one is being prepared. On receipt of the notice, the Department will consider its scope and terms and will respond appropriately at that time.

I am advised that the findings in the Data Protection Commission's report do not have the force of law until such time as they are formalised in an enforcement notice subject to any appeals process being completed. On the basis of advice from the Office of the Attorney General, I and my officials are satisfied that the processing of personal data relating to the PSC has a strong legal basis, that the retention of data is lawful and that the information provided to users satisfies the requirements of transparency. Pending the receipt of any enforcement notice and any subsequent appeal that may be made, the Department will continue to conduct the SAFE 2 registration process and keep issuing issue PSCs to those citizens who require them.

In continuing to support the use of the PSC, I maintain the approach first legislated for in 1998, and subsequently maintained by successive Governments.

The position then is that nothing has changed since we last discussed this matter. Is the Minister aware that the Road Safety Authority specifically stated in February 2018 that the PSC would be a mandatory requirement for applications for driving licences and not just online applications? Is she also aware that it was mandatory for people applying for naturalisation to have PSCs up until 16 August last - the day after the Data Protection Commissioner's report was issued - when that requirement was withdrawn?

I cannot say that I am or I am not. What I will say for the record is that I, as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, am not responsible for the roll-out or usage of the PSC in any other Department or offices or agencies under their auspices. It is up to each individual line Minister to engage with Government e-services and decide how they want to employ them.

I take the Minister's point that she is not personally responsible for what other Departments do. If what I am saying is correct, however - and I have evidence to support it - would she agree that the Data Protection Commissioner was right in the fear she expressed about mission creep.

As the Deputy is well aware, because he was in government when the card was brought into being, it is not my Department's card or scheme. This is a whole-of-Government scheme that was launched by his colleagues, the former Ministers for Finance and Social, Community and Family Affairs. It was also clearly defined from day one. I do not give compliments very easily to Opposition Members given the mess the country was in when we took over in 2011, but the foresight of the people who were in place in 1998 in the context of this project led to enhanced access - via the Internet - to all Government services for all citizens. It was never a case of mission creep taking place. I would say there was mission delivery.