New ‘egovernment’ strategy is a national identity card by the back door

The government has promised that the Public Services Card would not be mandatory. But now the government has put forward an ‘eGovernment strategy’ that will force every citizen, young or old, rich or poor to have this card. You will not be able to travel abroad, claim a benefit or open a savings account without it. It is a compulsory ID card by the back door and there has been no consultation about this.

The Public Services Card is actually much bigger than the card itself. It is a plan that will result in the linking up of private, intimate details of Irish citizens’ lives across all sections of government, including the education system, Gardai and the Health Service. There is no legal framework to provide for this to be done in a fair, safe and legal manner. The Department of Public Enterprise’s draft ‘Data Sharing and Governance Bill’ would provide some basis for this, but it is only in the earliest stages of development.

There are also real concerns about safety and security. How will this unified data be protected? Tens of thousands of public servants and contractors could have access to parts of this national data sets and there is no plan for how this access would be controlled. Only last week, a member of an Garda Siochana was convicted of illegally accessing private data about individuals from the Garda PULSE system. And this is certainly not the only case. There have been hundreds of breaches of privacy at the Department of Social Protection, which lies at the heart of the whole PSC initiative. As sensitive data about vulnerable children is collected, what assurance will parents have that only suitably screened persons have access to that data?

And there are also external threats. Sweden is reeling from a scandal where data stored in the ‘Cloud’ as part of a unified national system has resulted in a major nationwide data breach and a government-level scandal.

All the signs are that the government are taking these issues very lightly. The rights of ordinary people to privacy and protection from their government need to be at the heart, not in the footnotes.