UN rapporteur concerned with biometrics and private data in Irish public services system

Ireland’s public services card (PSC) could become a highly detailed centralized database of intimate personal information, and a potential big risk to privacy and civil liberties, a UN representative has warned, according to The Irish Times.

The PSC does include facial images, and though the Department of Social Protection, which administers the card, says it is not a national identity card and does not include biometrics, the Department uses facial recognition to detect potential identity fraud. Controversy broke out over the system when the government removed a reference to biometric data processing from a Ministry website last year.

UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty Professor Philip Alston says the private information collected for the PSC could be tempting for the government to aggregate with other information systems, and citizens should carefully consider the government’s intentions, as well as what protections are offered, before sharing their data.

“Health information, the infections you’ve had, the addictions that you suffer from, the psychological conditions that you’ve struggled with, your educational record, the highs and the lows, and many of your interactions with the police, with the courts system, your interactions with neighbours, your whole history, is potentially able to be added to a highly sophisticated, biometrically-based data system like this one.”

Alston was speaking in a personal capacity at an event organized by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Digital Rights Ireland, which have both advocated against the PSC. He urged the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) to make a report on the legality of the PSC public. The ICCL has said the card is “a well-known Irish example of how technology can be used against people living in poverty,” The Irish Times reports.

“The Government has created a digital check point where people must hand over their biometric data in order to put food on the table. It’s deeply unfair, because those required to get the PSC are least likely to be able to fight it,” says ICCL Surveillance and Human Rights Program Manager Elizabeth Farries.

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