The Public Service Card is good for Ireland and its citizens: Irish Times op-ed

30th August, 2017

Much has been written and said about the Public Service Card (PSC) over the last couple of weeks and there has been much speculation about the underpinning motives and intentions of government. So I want to provide some clarification on these matters.

Let’s start with the question of legality and debate. Provision for the use of the card was first made in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. This Act also created the legal right for specified bodies to use the card to support their transactions. Since then, there have been many revisions of the Act, which have been taken forward by six governments, including the current one, with each revision providing numerous opportunities for debate and discussion within the Oireachtas.

I have heard the calls for a new debate on the basis that the PSC is somehow becoming a National Identity Card. Can I be clear that the PSC is not, was never intended, and will not be used as such. Indeed the law clearly prohibits this in Article 263 of the 2005 Act to which I have referred. The PSC was designed for, and only for, the provision of public services and the purpose of its development was to improve such services by making them safer, fairer, more consistent and more robust.

Many people will be familiar with some of the more recent uses of the PSC. In addition to social welfare services such as Child Benefit, Free Travel and Treatment Benefits, its use has expanded to first time adult passport applicants in the State; replacement of lost, stolen or damaged passports; citizenship applications; and driver theory test applications. And there are plans under development to further extend the use of the PSC over the next couple of years.

I personally am very supportive of the PSC concept and I have been involved in several initiatives to publicise its development. There are several reason for this.

Firstly, it combines excellent technology with the additional assurance of a face to face interview. This, by the way, is carried out by highly trained staff who ensure the process is convenient and quick.

The SAFE 2 process, as it is known, is the most robust mechanism available to the State for providing maximum assurance on an individual’s identity. The use of the PSC has already driven fraud out of the welfare system – it is the duty of this government, and indeed any government, to do likewise in other areas where citizens interact with the State, such as for driving licences, passports and so on.  

Secondly, it will lead to a more efficient government and a better user experience when using government services. There simply should not be different methods of verification and processing for different services. It takes too much time and frustrates people. SAFE 2 will help us simplify and improve access to government services. Moreover, more efficient government reduces the cost of administrating services, freeing up investment for more important things.

The importance of simplification and “joining up” is amplified as we increasingly move to online services. The challenge of robust online citizen verification has taxed many governments across Europe and beyond. A MyGovID personal account, which can be created as part of the SAFE 2 process, and of which the PSC is a physical manifestation, provides a means of online verification which meets the highest standards and which is comparable to systems used elsewhere. Enabling citizens to use MyGovID for all their State business is a major step forward in terms of good customer service.  

Thirdly, given the importance of the EU to our economy, it is absolutely essential that we are not disadvantaged compared to the rest of Europe in terms of digital trade and government services. The European Commission is extremely committed to the concept of digital government and have set out ambitious plans for cross-border eGovernment and the establishment of a Digital Single Market. MyGovID fully aligns with developing EU plans and regulations, including Regulation (EU) N°910/2014, which addresses electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market.

And finally, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), comes into force on 25 May 2018. This regulation standardises and strengthens citizens’ rights in relation to data privacy. We have made a significant investment in developing the role and office of the Data Protection Commissioner and were the first country in the EU to introduce specific Ministerial oversight of GDPR preparations.  We should therefore exemplify transparency, confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience in the management of our citizen data. MyGovID is a key part of the overall programme of work which seeks to achieve this; particularly in helping to provide a strong and reliable connection between the identity of an online requestor and the data set pertaining to them.

I hope this piece helps create a better understanding of the history of the Public Service Card, its importance in the provision of better, safer, fairer, more consistent and more robust public services. Equally, I hope it provides the necessary reassurance that the PSC is absolutely not an attempt to bring a National Identity Card, by stealth or otherwise.