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Alberta privacy commissioner has concerns with ID-scanning plan at liquor stores

Tech helps battle liquor store robberies in Edmonton
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A plan to crack down on violent robberies at liquor stores by scanning people’s IDs before allowing them inside has the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Alberta concerned.

In fact, “the commissioner is considering an investigation into this matter,” Scott Sibbald, communications manager for the OIPC, told Global News in an email Wednesday.

READ MORE: ID scanning pilot project launched to combat Edmonton liquor theft epidemic

On Monday, Alberta’s largest liquor store owner, alongside Edmonton police, announced the launch of the pilot project.

Alcanna Inc., owner of the Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands, has installed an identification scanning entry system from company PatronScan at one of its locations in northeast Edmonton.

The PatronScan system requires customers to scan their identification prior to the door unlocking and allowing entry into the store. Alcanna said it’s the first retailer in Alberta to use this type of technology.

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READ MORE: Edmonton police propose mandatory ID scanners at bars

Sibbald said the office of the privacy commissioner had not been consulted on the pilot project. He said the office first heard about the plan through media reports on Monday.

“Assertions by the companies that the identification scanning system used in liquor stores complies with privacy laws in Alberta are misleading.

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“An independent analysis of the technology being used in the pilot project has not been completed by our office,” Sibbald added.

Alberta’s privacy commissioner raises concerns about ID scanners at liquor stores
Alberta’s privacy commissioner raises concerns about ID scanners at liquor stores

He said claims that this technology has been approved by Alberta’s privacy commissioner and that a privacy assessment review were done do not “appear to be true.”

READ MORE: Concern for staff safety after 300% spike in Edmonton liquor store robberies

PatronScan’s CEO says the company has been in Alberta for over 10 years and has a long history with the privacy commissioner’s office regarding its technology.

“When we first came to this market, we submitted to them our privacy impact assessment, privacy risk assessment, privacy policy and privacy charter,” Alberio Bathory-Frota told Global News on Wednesday. “I like to think we have a great relationship with them. They’ve looked at our technology at various times since then and we’ve always been found to comply with the local privacy laws.”

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WATCH (Sept. 24, 2019): A CEO is speaking out because he’s terrified one of his employees is going to get killed. Edmonton has seen a 300 per cent spike in liquor store robberies this year alone. Breanna Karstens-Smith has the startling video of brazen robberies that are turning violent.

300% spike in liquor store robberies in Edmonton; staff safety a concern
300% spike in liquor store robberies in Edmonton; staff safety a concern

Personal identification scanners have been used in many Edmonton bars and nightclubs since the early 2000s. In 2015, Edmonton police said about about 30 to 40 per cent of establishments were using them voluntarily.

READ MORE: Edmonton police propose mandatory ID scanners at bars

Bathory-Frota said they did not consult with the privacy office specifically about using the scanning technology at liquor stores prior to the launch with Alcanna, but stresses it’s the same product and the same application.

“The technology hasn’t changed and the purpose hasn’t changed. The purpose is to increase public safety through ID scanning for age-controlled products.

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“So, whether the venue be a bar/nightclub or the customers at a liquor store, in my understanding, it’s still the same purpose.

“The product we use, PatronScan, has the exact same security and privacy safeguards no matter who the client is. So the product and the purpose is, I believe, the same. But, like I said, we look forward to speaking with the [privacy commissioner’s] office and clarifying that.”
Reaction to massive spike in brazen liquor store robberies in Edmonton
Reaction to massive spike in brazen liquor store robberies in Edmonton

After hearing the OIPC had concerns on Tuesday, Bathory-Frota contacted the office and has already had several discussions, he said.

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“At this point, we haven’t been told that there’s an actual investigation,” he said. “Any time we’ve ever communicated with them before in the past, they’ve looked at our product in the past, it’s always been a great process, the outcome has always been positive.

“I like to think we have a really good transparent relationship with them. I’m not concerned about it at all. I look forward to it.”

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PatronScan said customers’ ID information is not kept in the devices, but stored in PatronScan’s data centre with restricted access. The company said Monday its technology complies with Canadian, Alberta and B.C. legislative and regulatory requirements.

“Our differentiating factor that we wanted was to be the most privacy-compliant product in the market,” Bathory-Frota said Wednesday. “That’s why, when we first came to the market, one of the first things we did was contact the privacy office of Alberta… It’s something that we do as we go into new jurisdictions. It’s part of our process.”

READ MORE: ‘There are reasons to be wary’ of ID scanners at marijuana stores, lawyer warns

However, the privacy commissioner’s office believes using the technology in bars and nightclubs and using them at liquor stores could be different. They’re different types of businesses and have different purposes.

Bill 42, the Gaming and Liquor Act, was amended in 2008. It outlines what information can be collected and under what circumstances it can be disclosed.

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  • A licensee may, before allowing a person to enter licensed premises, collect the person’s name, age and photograph.
  • If a licensee has personal knowledge or reasonably believes that a person referred to in subsection (1) has, at any time within the preceding year, engaged in an activity referred to in section 69(1) or (2), the licensee may, in good faith, disclose the person’s name, age and photograph to other licensees for the purpose of allowing them to determine whether they wish to allow the person to enter licensed premises.
  • A licensee must, as soon as possible after a request is made by a police officer, disclose to the police officer any information collected under subsection (1).

Sections 69 (1) and (2) outlines activities that are illegal, detrimental to the orderly operation of the premises, threaten the safety of people there, prohibited under the licence or regulations.

PatronScan says the technology has improved safety for businesses all over the world.

In the liquor store application, the data collected is very limited.

“It’s collecting the name, the date of birth, the first three letters of the postal code and the gender, if it exists,” Bathory-Frota said. “The photo is not collected in this application. The technology is the same [but] Alcanna chose not to use the camera.”

“We never share, we never sell the data. It’s retained for a very short period of time and then it’s deleted.”

—With files from Karen Bartko, Global News