Irish govt says biometric data reference in privacy policy was ‘in error’


Ireland's Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said a reference to processing biometric data on individuals included in its new privacy statement was an error and that public services cards do not store biometrics.

The policy, updated in May to reflect the coming into force of new data protection laws, reads that “at times” the data the department may collect includes “data concerning health and biometric data used for the purpose of identification”.

A new contract worth more than €9 million ($10.5m) to print up to two million public services cards was awarded in recent days to Security Card Concepts Ltd, which was called Biometric Card Services Ltd until a month ago.

That company had produced over 3 million public services cards under a contract to the department and had been paid €23 million up to last October.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has repeatedly said – including in the Dáil in May – that the department “does not ask for or collect biometric data from its customers such as fingerprints, retinal scans or any other items that could be listed as biometric data”.

Privacy advocates and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the card project, saying it amounts to the introduction of a national identity card without proper debate and safeguards. The department said it is not a national identity card.

Contacted by The Irish Times about the new privacy policy, the department said the cards, which have an image a photograph of the holder on the face of them, do not “store” any “biometric or arithmetic template” of that photograph.

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