This article appeared in the Halifax Herald on August 13, 2003
Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada

Warning! Bars taking private info from cards

By Jennifer Stewart (Halifax Herald - August 13, 2003)

Patrons beware: Halifax bars may know more about you than you want them to.

Lynne Genik, 31, of Ottawa learned this lesson the hard way Aug. 2, when she tried to enter My Apartment - the downstairs section of the bar complex known as the Liquor Dome, on Argyle Street.

Ms. Genik was asked for identification at the door, and she willingly gave it to the doorman.

She said he then swiped her driver's licence through a hand-held electronic device, used to store personal information on the bar's database.

"I said, 'Excuse me, what do you think you're doing?' " Ms. Genik said by phone from Ottawa.

"He didn't ask, and I never gave him my permission."

She demanded he erase her information, which included her home address, licence number, date of birth, sex and height.

The doorman replied he didn't know how to do so.

Later, she was told by the head of security that he would delete the information from the database at the end of the night, but Ms. Genik said she has no way of knowing this was ever done.

"He didn't write down my name or anything," she said.

"Now they have all this information about me that they don't need. I just think that it's a major invasion of privacy."

Ms. Genik decided to investigate the matter further.

She contacted Darce Fardy, a review officer at the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office.

To her surprise, she discovered that nowhere in Canada are bars subject to any privacy laws.

"Whether they have any obligations or not, they shouldn't be asking about information that they don't require," Mr. Fardy said, adding that was the case with Ms. Genik.

There is a federal act that governs the public sector but no law to prohibit the private realm - including commercial enterprises, such as bars - from asking for personal information.

Social insurance number information "can lead to the stealing of identities," Mr. Fardy said.

"Students who are wandering into bars or trying to rent property are being asked for their SIN numbers, when we should be protecting those as best we can," he said.

Plans are underway at the privacy office to protect the public from these actions.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which takes effect Jan. 1, sets out rules for how private-sector organizations may use personal information in commercial activities.

Under the new law, private bodies cannot require you to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of personal data, unless it's required for a specific and legitimate purpose.

Peter MacPherson, general manager of the Dome, said the business has a valid reason for requesting the information.

"It's an ID verifier," Mr. MacPherson said.

"Our biggest problem is people doctoring IDs - when it's the person's picture but someone else's legal information. This is our way of detecting the doctored IDs."

The first time the identification card is swiped, the information is stored on the bar's database. The next time it's checked, it's considered a valid ID if it matches what's on the database.

"We don't use their information for any purpose other than that," Mr. MacPherson said.

The system was implemented about four weeks ago and has already caught a number of underage people trying to enter with fake IDs.

Mr. MacPherson said anyone has the right to refuse, but the bar may deny entry.

Security staff didn't tell Ms. Genik this was the reasoning for swiping her card. She said they told her it was in case anything happened to her inside.

"I get the impression that a lot of people don't care about these issues or just don't notice," Ms. Genik said.

"But I really think they should."