Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) has ordered the country to delete 3.2 million people's personal data after ruling that its national ID card scheme was "unlawful from a data-processing point of view".
Speaking to the Irish Times, data protection commissioner Helen Dixon described the scheme as "unlawful" and has ordered Ireland's Department of Social Protection to stop collecting and processing people's personal data for the project.
Laws underpinning the ID card, Dixon said, had been misinterpreted by the Irish state to give it total freedom to do as it pleased with the data it hoovered up when that was not the case. In a statement about the Public Services Card, the DPC said: "In practical terms, a person's capacity to access public services both offline and online is now contingent, in an ever-increasing range of contexts, on obtaining and producing a PSC [Public Services Card]."
The Republic of Ireland's total population is around 4.8 million, meaning around three-quarters of the Emerald Isle's inhabitants had signed up to the scheme. It was used for everything from "the issuing of driver's licences or passports, to decisions to grant or suspend payments or benefits under the social protection code, to the filing of appeals against decisions about the provision of school transport."
But the DPC found that the state was effectively acting as if data protection laws didn't apply to it at all.
The Department's blanket and indefinite retention of underlying documents and information provided by persons applying for a PSC contravenes Section 2(1)(c)(iv) of the [Irish] Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003 because such data is being retained for periods longer than is necessary for the purposes for which it was collected.
However, in the detail the DPC did admit that data collected by the Department of Social Protection could be used for its intended purpose – just not for other government departments.
"Ultimately, we were struck by the extent to which the scheme, as implemented in practice, is far-removed from its original concept," thundered the DPC. "Instead, the card has been reduced to a limited form of photo-ID, for which alternative uses have then had to be found."
The scrapping of the scheme has close parallels with UK attempts at a national ID card, an idea enthusiastically promoted by Tony Blair's New Labour government of the 2000s which was instantly scrapped by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition that came to power in 2010.
Concerningly, Conservative-leaning think tanks have forgotten the £300m wasted on UK ID cards and have begun reheating calls to bring them back as some kind of technological wand that will magically solve all government administration woes. ®