Thursday, 22 March 2018
9. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for the further rollout of the public services card; his further plans to protect the privacy of persons using the card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10869/18]
I want to ask the Minister, now that his Department is running the public services card project under the strategic communications strategy, how he proposes to reassure ordinary people across the country who use the public services card efficiently that their data are safe and protected and will not be handed on to other bodies.
The public services card, and its online counterpart MyGovID, is the Government’s standard personal identity verification scheme, and it is core to delivering public services to people in a secure and efficient manner. My Department works closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection which is the lead implementation body for the production of the PSC, MyGovID, and the SAFE registration process which underpins both.
The SAFE registration process used to establish and verify a person’s identity, increases the privacy protection and security afforded to people by ensuring that the person using a service is the person they claim to be, and by minimising the requirement for people to provide the same identity information over and over again. The use of the card and MyGovID to establish identity with a high level of assurance is fundamental to providing people and the public service a means to protect their data.
As the data controller for data collected during the SAFE registration process, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is committed to ensuring that data relating to people are securely held and used only for relevant business purposes. Its commitment to safeguarding data is reflected in the use of advanced data processing and storage technology, hosting in secure data centres and is reinforced by a range of legislative and administrative provisions that are designed to protect the rights and interests of citizens. They impose obligations in relation to the confidentiality, unauthorised access, unnecessary use, alteration, destruction or disclosure. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has worked with my Department to publish a Comprehensive Guide To SAFE Registration and The Public Services Card last October, which is available online. Further information, including a detailed set of questions and answers, relating to the card and MyGovID is available on the website psc.gov.ie.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Regarding current and planed use, the PSC and MyGovID underpins access to social welfare entitlements, first time adult passport applications, citizenship applications, driver theory test applications, and Revenue services. In 2018, access to more public services will be underpinned by the PSC and MyGovID. Details of this plan can be found within the eGovernment Strategy 2017-2020, published in July 2017.
I was the Minister responsible for introducing the public services card. Ireland spends about €20 billion a year on social welfare payments to people. The public services card has enabled a much better quality of service, with greater speed and effectiveness. This applies particularly to the free travel enjoyed by pensioners and the disabled. People can now do their business with a far greater degree of privacy and confidence than was the case before the card was introduced.
I am raising this question because I am really concerned that what has been a very significant achievement of the public service in Ireland, together with the development of the Intreo services and offices, where people can go and do their business with privacy and make appointments, etc., is being put at risk by the failure of this Government. In particular, I refer to some of the comments made by the current Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, in which she spoke of compulsory and mandatory use of the card. The Government is raising a fear that data are not secure, and people are entitled to be assured that they are secure and properly regulated by law. There is mission creep in relation to the proposal for driving licence applications.
I want to reiterate to the House that we have the highest level of protection in place to ensure that citizens' information and private data are safe, secure and stored and regulated in accordance with data protection law. I am aware of the issues of concern that were raised in the second half of last year. That is why we have published the document I referred to a moment ago on the website of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It explains to citizens how we are handling the various issues of concern. We have responded, and will continue to respond, to any matters of public concern and any observations or views that the Data Protection Commissioner may have.
In this strategic communications, spin-driven Government the Minister would be well advised to rethink what is happening reputationally to the public services card. It is extremely important to people who are using it, particularly our pensioners for their travelling needs, and others who are using it for a range of services. It is particularly important in terms of the €20 billion that is disbursed annually through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
An awful mess has been made of the proposal around the driving licence. The Minister has not explained to people what the advantage of doing this is, and he has not set out what the advantage could potentially be for people. Instead he has raised fears at a time when people are very alert to what companies such as Cambridge Analytica have been doing with their private data. It is on the record here, but given the emphasis this Government places on communications, the Minister has not communicated adequately to ordinary people that their data are secure, safe and private. They give their data to the Government for the purpose of Government transactions with them, and they are not to be used in any other context.
This is a Government of substance, contrary to what the Deputy has said. I look forward to seeing the latest round of changes to people's social welfare payments being made next week. It will assist people-----
-----the Central Bank of Ireland published the latest report on the progress that has been made in mortgage arrears. Contrary to what the Deputy said a moment ago, in many different areas we are making progress, but of course we always have to make more progress and have to deliver more. I am committed to playing my part in so doing.
I appreciate the support the Deputy has offered, on an ongoing basis, to this project, given the fact that as Minister for Social Protection, in the various social welfare Acts that she passed, the role of this card was recognised. We are dealing with matters of concern for the public, and that is why we have tried to communicate what the benefits are. At a time when there are such legitimate concerns about how we protect our digital identity and make sure information that people share is securely protected I would have thought that the rationale for the public services card has actually grown rather than been diminished.