Victoria bars will continue to swipe IDs

By Katie Derosa, Times Colonist July 23, 2009 6:02 AM


Victoria bars will continue to swipe patrons’ IDs and take their photos despite a ruling that collecting personal information as a condition of entry violates privacy laws.

"We are going to conduct business as usual based on a venue-specific decision," Victoria Bar and Cabaret Association spokesman Scott Gurney said yesterday.

He said his organization believes the ruling made Tuesday by B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis applies only to the Vancouver bar that was the subject of the original complaint. In that ruling, Loukidelis ruled that the TreoScope system used at Wild Coyote Club in Vancouver violated the Personal Information and Privacy Act by forcing customers to provide personal information before entering the bar.

Two weeks ago, the Victoria bars implemented their own Bar Watch program, using the TreoScope EnterSafe system, which scans people’s IDs and takes their photos before they enter.

A privacy expert says although Loukidelis’s decision centres around the one complaint made five years ago, it has wide-reaching implications.

"If any bar is collecting similar amounts of information through the Treoscope technologies, then they are clearly in violation of the privacy law," said University of Victoria political science professor Colin Bennett.

He said anyone could go into a bar that uses the technology, register a complaint with the commissioner, and the ruling would be the same.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association predicts that’s exactly what will happen in Victoria. Association’s policy director Micheal Vonn said she is "positive" complaints about local bars will flood into Loukidelis’s office.

Still, TreoScope president Owen Cameron insisted the ruling will not affect Victoria bars even though the Treoscope systems used here collects and stores a patron’s name, age, driver’s licence number and expiry date — as did the one at Wild Coyote. Cameron said the software has been upgraded several times since it was examined by the privacy commissioner and there have been changes to how much information is collected and how long it is stored.

He said the stakeholders will meet with Loukidelis with the hope of reaching a compromise that allows the Treoscope system to continue with modifications that meet privacy laws.

Although Loukidelis ruled that he has not seen any evidence that suggests patrons are more safe because of the technology, Cameron said he is sure new statistics from Vancouver and Nanaimo, where Bar Watch programs have existed for more than two years, will persuade him otherwise.

"It’s incumbent upon bar owners to demonstrate to the commissioner that what they are doing in other bars collects less information," Bennett said.

Alberta’s Bar Watch program faced similar problems when the province’s privacy commissioner, Frank Work, deemed that scanning licences is a privacy violation.

The Alberta government reached a middle ground, with legislation that enables bars to take the names and ages of patrons, and to snap photos, but denies them the right to swipe ID.

The Wild Coyote Club has 30 days to appeal the decision to the B.C. Supreme Court.

Club manager Greg Bell said management will read the report before deciding.

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