Alberta privacy commissioner investigating Alcanna’s use of ID scanning at liquor stores

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One day after expressing concern, Alberta’s privacy commissioner is now officially investigating Alcanna‘s ID-scanning pilot project aimed at curbing violent liquor store robberies.

Alcanna — Alberta’s largest liquor store owner — and identification scanning system company Patronscan announced the project at a news conference with the justice minister and Edmonton police on Monday.

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

Alcanna, which owns Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands, has installed the systems at three of its locations in Edmonton, with plans for a fourth. Customers must scan their government-issued ID in order to get into the stores.

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

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The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Alberta said it first heard of the pilot project via media reports.

“An independent analysis of this use of the technology has not been conducted by the OIPC,” it said.

“Assertions by the companies that the identification scanning system used in liquor stores complies with privacy laws in Alberta are misleading,” Scott Sibbald, communications manager for the OIPC, said in an email to Global News.

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

“The investigation will determine whether the use of this technology in liquor stores is compliant with the Personal Information Protection Act, Alberta’s private sector privacy law,” OIPC said Thursday.

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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.

On Thursday, Bathory-Frota issued a statement in response to the investigation being announced.

“Since the commissioner’s office previously determined that the Patronscan ID scanners used at nightclubs are in full compliance with Alberta’s privacy protection laws, we are confident that the commissioner will reach the same conclusion for scanners used at liquor stores.

“Patronscan did not see the need to contact the office of the commissioner to use the same technology for simply a different type of venue.

“We are confident that the inquiry will conclude that all applications of Patronscan are designed to deter theft and prevent violent offenses, and data collected from non-offending patrons is never sold to third parties or used for marketing purposes, and is deleted after 90 days.”

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

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

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Alcanna has installed them in some of its stores due to what Edmonton police said was a 200 per cent increase in liquor store theft calls between 2018 and 2019. Police said last year, officers responded to almost 9,600 theft of liquor calls — about 26 calls per day across the city.

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

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

Due to a variety of factors, the privacy commissioner’s office said there’s no timeline for its investigation.

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