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Government won't release Public Services Card report due to 'public interest' fears

The group intends to appeal this decision to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Updated Jan 14th 2019, 7:33 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been criticised for not releasing a report on the Public Services Card because it may “be contrary to the public interest”.

The not-for-profit rights group the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the Department of Social Protection refused a Freedom of Information request it sent. 

However, the Department has since said the FOI was partially granted, not refused. 

The request was for the Data Protection Commissioner’s report into the Public Services Card which examined whether the State’s identity card and related systems fully complied with Irish law.

The detailed response from the Department of Social Protection to ICCL’s request relies on Sections 29(1), 30(1), 32 (1)(c), 35 and 37(1) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Amongst other issues, these sections include grounds for refusal of a request based on “public interest” or that the “requester concerned would thereby become aware of a significant decision that the body proposes to make”.

The ICCL has said previously that it is “gravely concerned” regarding the Public Services Card project as a whole.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Social Protection said that “the assertion that the request was refused due to ‘public interest’ concerns is incorrect”. 

“In fact, the FOI request was partially granted – not refused – with some sections redacted. The sections redacted were done so under sections of the FOI Act which were clearly stated in the decision letter to the ICCL,” the statement said. 

“In the main, these relate to the fact that (i) the investigation by the ODPC is still ongoing and premature release of the documents could pre-empt the direction or decision of the investigation and that (ii) the DPC gave strict instructions that the draft report remain confidential,” it said. 

“The Department provided a comprehensive response to the DPC’s draft report on 30 November 2018 and the Department now awaits its response.” 

ICCL director Liam Herrick said in response to the FOI decision:

“ICCL is calling for full transparency on the legal basis for the public services card because it violates the privacy and data protection rights of people living in Ireland.

We have been campaigning against its introduction because it’s unnecessary, costly, and of questionable efficacy – and it targets in particular economically vulnerable people, such as those dependant on social welfare.
Further, it is deeply troubling that the government has continued to roll the card out for essential services while a question hangs over its legality.

The group intends to appeal this decision to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

“We believe that the public has an immediate right to know what decisions are being taken behind closed doors about our privacy,” it added.

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