600,000 to get ID cards in benefit fraud clampdown
UP TO 600,000 unemployed and social welfare recipients are set to receive new photo ID cards equipped with facial recognition technology, it has emerged.
The Government is preparing to roll out the identity cards as part of a major push to clamp down on social welfare fraud.
Recipients of the card will be required to visit their local social welfare office where they will be photographed using "facial image matching software".
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton plans to equip every adult in the country with the identity card by 2017 -- at a cost of €24m.
The minister has been vocal in her determination to clamp down on fraudsters, such as those using false identities and making multiple claims.
A spokesperson for the department said it is hoped the card will "reduce the potential for forgery" as well as acting as a "key for access to public services".
However, the spokesperson rejected the idea that the card being introduced would amount to an ID card, claiming that it would simply achieve efficiencies in the public service.
"Its function is to act as a key to public services so as to enable us to provide enhanced services to the public while achieving efficiencies in administration.
"The matter of producing a national identity card is a wider issue. It would require consideration by the appropriate agencies before any policy decisions could be formulated and would require the development and implementation of legislation."
The scheme was piloted in Offaly, Dublin and Sligo in the autumn, but Department officials have now decided that the card should be equipped with improved photographic technology before being rolled out nationwide.
It was originally planned to give the cards to pensioners first, but Minister Burton changed this route to instead equip job seekers.
However, lobby groups have expressed their scepticism at the card's introduction, voicing fears that the Government may attempt to bring it in by stealth.
A spokesperson for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said: "The ICCL notes Government assurances that the scheme is not equivalent to the UK's costly and farcical ID card scheme which was scrapped by the new coalition Government.
"The ICCL will monitor any attempt to introduce a national identity card by stealth."