The Data Protection Commissioner has said there is no issue with the validity of Public Services Cards and they can still be used on a voluntary basis as photo ID, but they cannot be demanded for services other than social welfare benefits.
Helen Dixon said the ruling by the commission, that some of the ways the cards were being used was illegal, means the State can no longer issue new cards for services other than those provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Miriam O’Callaghan, Ms Dixon said her office has instructed the department to stop issuing cards for people to use in other bodies and has also told them it must delete some sensitive personal information they collected from people when issuing the cards.
Ms Dixon also said she felt that there was "nothing sinister" about the way the Government had rolled out the card, but she said the manner in which it had been doing this "lacks coherence".
She said she believed its motivation was to make public services more efficient and eliminate fraud, but that it was still "very unclear" what the Public Services Card was proof of.
Ms Dixon said a schedule on the department’s website had shown how it had intended to make the card mandatory for a number of public services, but she said the only places the commission could establish where they are currently required is in application for citizenship and for first time adult passport applications.
She said a number of other bodies who had been asking for the cards seemed to have "rolled back" from using them in recent weeks and that this was to be welcomed in light of the ruling.
Ms Dixon said that the issue was not with the concept of a Public Services Cards, which operate in other countries, but she said the issue was with the legislation underpinning the operation of this card, which was specifically for social welfare benefits.
Ms Dixon also said her office "tried possibly for too long" to work with the department to convince them to curtail the use of the card before opening an investigation into its use in October 2017.
She said: "What the Government does from here and wants the system to be is a matter for the Government."
Her office has given the department 21 days to confirm the actions it has taken in response to the ruling.
The Data Protection Commissioner says the Public Services Card can still be used on a voluntary basis as photo ID but it can't be demanded for services other than social welfare benefits pic.twitter.com/2xpU8e0rL1— RTÉ News (@rtenews) August 16, 2019
Meanwhile, Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty, has refused to be drawn on whether Public Services Cards should be scrapped.
Speaking at Gormanston army camp in Co Meath this afternoon, the minister said she was considering the report from the Data Protection Commissioner.
"We only received the report yesterday. It's a very comprehensive report. We are going to consider the report and issue a full response as soon as we can," she said.
"To be fair to the commission, they took two years to give us the report, we only received it yesterday afternoon. It's 172 pages.
When asked whether the cards should be scrapped, the minister said that there were eight findings in the report which are being considered.
"We started considering them yesterday ... We are continuing to do it today. And I would expect to issue a full report and a response to the Data Protection Commission as quickly as I possibly can."
The Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has said that the Government will have to very seriously consider the report from the Data Protection Commissioner.
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Paschal Donohoe said Ms Dixon has laid down the timelines by which she expects the Government to adhere to and respond to and they will.
He said both he and Minister Doherty now need to reflect on the report.
The Minister said that while he disagreed with the PSC being described as "a mess", it is clearly a serious issue that the Government needs to respond to.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said it welcomed the watchdog's findings, in particular "that there is no legal basis for demanding the PSC for many of the public services for which it is now mandatory".
ICCL Information Rights programme manager Elizabeth Farries said: "We support the immediacy of the DPC's enforcement measures.
"They are appropriate given that the card lacks a legal basis, is unnecessary, and presents serious risks to the highly sensitive personal data it collects. The DPC findings are a disaster of the Government's own making.
"For years, ICCL has urged government to cease the roll out of the PSC due to human rights concerns, and pending the conclusions of this very investigation."
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said today's development "is a very big deal".
"It means in practice that bodies other than the department can no longer insist that a person must obtain a Public Services Card. The department will be required to stop all processing of that data.
"Do you need a passport renewed? You no longer need the public services card. Are you appealing a school grant decision? The public services card is no longer required.
"It is a sprawling beast that has grown well beyond its original purpose at great expense to the people living in Ireland in terms of the cost but also in terms of privacy."
She said the ICCL had tried to get a copy of the interim report under FOI legislation and the Department had refused saying it was "not in the public interest to see that report".
"It is clear now that the Data Protection Commissioner feels it is in the public interest for everyone to see that report and directed the department to publish it within seven days."
Speaking to RTÉ's News at One programme, Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea called on Minister Doherty to publish the report.
"The Commission are precluded from publishing the report, but the Minister can of course publish it, or give the Commission permission to publish it.
"I'm calling on her to do so immediately so that we can all have access to it and understand exactly what the Data Commissioner is saying."
Sinn Féin TD John Brady also called on the report to be published saying: "The Data Commissioner's report must be published in full within the next seven days as promised. Following that, Minister Doherty has serious questions to answer.
"The department must now move immediately to comply with all requirements laid down by the Data Commissioner including the deletion of all supporting documentation held by the department from previous applications made for the card."
The Passport Service has said that it is aware of the statement from the Data Protection Commission in relation to the matter, and it is "currently reviewing" its documentary requirements for first time applicants.