The controversy surrounding the Public Services Card continued this week.

The Data Protection Commissioner has indicated that she will issue an enforcement order against the Government if it continues to process data in relation to the card.

However, the Government is digging its heels in, insisting the processing of data for services aside from social welfare is legal.

What is the Public Services Card?

The Public Services Card was first introduced to obtain social welfare benefits in an effort to tackle fraud and was then rolled out to other services like passports and driver licences.

There was confusion back in 2017 after a statement from the Government saying that the card was "mandatory but not compulsory".

Last year the Department of Transport did a u-turn on making it a mandatory requirement for people to use the card to apply for a driver's licence or learner permit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs this week said the card would no longer be required to get a passport.

There has been criticism of the project, which cost €60 million, with some saying it amounted to the introduction of a National Identity Card.

The Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, carried out a two-year investigation into whether the Public Services Card system is legal and that report was published earlier this week.

The Government has said it will appeal the commissioner's report, which found it was illegal to force the public to apply for a PSC for services other than social welfare benefits.

What did the Data Protection Commissioner’s report say?

The watchdog’s report found that the expansion of the card’s remit to other State services from its social welfare origins is illegal under data protection laws.

The report also said it was not legal for the department to hold documents indefinitely including utility bills - which are required when applying for the card.

The commissioner’s report said the State must delete the data held on over three million citizens who hold a card.

What was the Government’s reaction to the report?

The Government is digging its heels in with the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty saying her department had received legal advice which states the card is lawful.

She said existing legislation provides a "robust legal basis" for her department to issue the cards for use by a number of bodies across the public sector.

Minister Doherty rejected the findings of the commissioner’s report and said it would be potentially illegal to delete the information.

The Government argues that the PSC allows people to access public services in a streamlined manner without the need to submit the same documentation numerous times to verify their identity.

In the Dáil this week the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government is yet to receive an enforcement order from the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to the Public Services Card. 

He said Minister Doherty had offered to meet the commissioner to discuss her concerns and findings but that request was declined.

The Taoiseach said the right of appeal was part of a democracy and he said it was not unusual for the Government to appeal a decision.

What about the future of the PSC?

The Data Protection Commissioner is expected to issue enforcement orders against the Government imminently. 

The Government will then have 21 days to appeal the order to the circuit court.

As both sides continue to battle over the future of the PSC people can still use them to access many services and the department will continue to issue them.