Bars swipe patron IDs, collect data

By Katie Derosa, Times Colonist July 9, 2009 10:34 AM

Nine of Victoria’s most popular bars are capturing data from patrons’ ID cards and taking their photos as part of a new program still under investigation by B.C.’s privacy watchdog.

Bar Watch, officially implemented yesterday, will blacklist problem patrons by keeping track of whether they have been kicked out of another bar that night, caused a fight, or have gang ties. Thirteen bars have signed on to the program but not all are using the swiping database.

As patrons enter a bar, they’ll have their ID cards swiped through a data reader and their photos taken. If a person causes trouble in the bar, an "alert" will be placed on their file, which will show up when that person tries to enter another participating bar, said Owen Cameron, who created the database. The alert can last from 24 hours to a year, depending on the incident, said Cameron, president of B.C.-based TreoScope Technologies.

The card readers will accept driver’s licences and ID cards from around North America.

Although Bar Watch was backed by Victoria city council in October 2008 to curb late-night fights, loud noise, vandalism and public urination linked to drunk and rowdy bar-goers, it doesn’t have the go-ahead from B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis.

He is investigating whether electronically collecting and retaining information from someone’s driver’s licence violates privacy law. A spokesman said Loukidelis cannot comment until he makes his decision, which should be in the next few weeks.

However, Alberta’s privacy commissioner, Frank Work, has ruled that scanning licences is a privacy violation — and that decision was upheld by a provincial court in March. In June, the Alberta government passed legislation that offers a compromise: bars can take the person’s name and age and take their photo, but not scan their ID.

In addition to privacy concerns, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is worried the information from thousands of scanned driver’s licences could be misused for fraud or identity theft, said Michael Vonn, policy director for the association.

Cameron said only the person’s name, age, driver’s licence number and the licence expiry date are recorded in the system, not their address or other personal information stored on the cards. The information encoded and can be accessed only by police through TreoScope.

Scott Gurney, spokesman for the Victoria Bar and Cabaret Association, said he expects some patrons to be reluctant to offer their information.

"We definitely expect privacy to be a concern," he said, and suggested those who don’t want their ID swiped don’t have to come in the bar.

Victoria police are optimistic the program will discourage people from causing trouble in or outside bars. "You will no longer be able to hide behind the veil of anonymity and you will be caught," said downtown community resource officer Const. Lori Beauvais.

She said a similar Vancouver program has reduced problems at that city’s bars.

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