Is the govern­ment sneak­ing na­tional ID cards in through the back door?

The Kerryman (South Kerry Edition) - - OPINION -

THIS past week has seen much de­bate about Ire­land’s rel­a­tively new Pub­lic Ser­vices Card amid al­le­ga­tions that the Govern­ment is try­ing to sneak­ily in­tro­duce a new na­tional iden­tity card in through the back door. Last week an Oireach­tas Com­mit­tee heard from le­gal ex­perts on pri­vacy rights that the PSC card – which is now needed to ac­cess a raft of State ser­vices – might not be com­pli­ant with EU data pro­tec­tion laws and that, as a re­sult, the Govern­ment could be hit with mil­lions of Euro in com­pen­sa­tion claims.

So what ex­actly is the cur­rent furore all about?

The PSC card was first in­tro­duced back in 2012 os­ten­si­bly as a way to crack down on wel­fare fraud and to help stream­line ac­cess to var­i­ous so­cial wel­fare pro­grammes.

That’s all well and good but since then new poli­cies, in­tro­duced bit by bit and with lit­tle fan­fare, have led to a sit­u­a­tion in which the card is needed to avail of nu­mer­ous other ser­vices, in­clud­ing driv­ing li­cence and pass­port ap­pli­ca­tions.

In a feat of bu­reau­cratic logic and lin­guis­tics wor­thy of ‘Yes Min­is­ter’s’ Sir Humphrey Ap­pleby, the Govern­ment still in­sists that the cards – which con­tain sig­nif­i­cant amounts of per­sonal data – aren’t com­pul­sory and that no one is ac­tu­ally be­ing forced to sign up for them. Tech­ni­cally they are cor­rect, how­ever any­one plan­ning on leav­ing the coun­try or driv­ing a car once their li­cences and pass­ports ex­pire will, likely, find the re­al­ity is some­what dif­fer­ent.

As one might ex­pect, those lead­ing the charge against the cards are pri­mar­ily from among the left wing pri­vacy pro­tec­tion move­ment. What is in­ter­est­ing about their take on the mat­ter is that most don’t seem op­posed to ei­ther the con­cept or the gen­eral prin­ci­ple of the cards, rather their is­sue is how the Govern­ment has in­tro­duced the, sup­pos­edly, ‘non com­pul­sory’ cards. Here it would seem the pri­vacy ad­vo­cates have a point.

On the face of it there seems to be lit­tle wrong with the in­tro­duc­tion of an ID card that could al­low cit­i­zens ac­cess a whole range of ser­vices while pro­vid­ing that State with an ef­fec­tive way to mon­i­tor po­ten­tial fraud.

De­spite what some of the more ra­bid anti State com­men­ta­tors in In­ter­net chat rooms might claim, Ire­land is far from a po­lice state and in­tro­duc­ing a na­tional ID card is un­likely to see peo­ple asked to present their pa­pers to walk down the street.

Ire­land is one of only two Euro­pean na­tions that doesn’t have a na­tional ID card and, in­deed, most peo­ple here don’t ap­pear to have a dif­fi­culty with their in­tro­duc­tion.

The prob­lem lies in the Govern­ment’s se­crecy and it is here that Mr Var­dakar and his De­part­ments have dropped the ball.

If there is noth­ing to fear about the cards – and that cer­tainly seems to be the case – why not have an open de­bate about them and in­tro­duce them prop­erly, with suit­able pub­lic de­bate and scru­tiny?

On this is­sue the Govern­ment – whose ap­proach has now seem­ingly opened the door to po­ten­tial law suits – needs to be open and hon­est. There’s no need to hide be­hind jar­gon and bu­reau­cratic non­sense. Just be open and have faith in the Ir­ish peo­ple to have faith in their in­sti­tu­tions.

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