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"Barwatch" Ruled Illegal

On July 21, 2009, B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis ruled that the amount and type of information and the length it is retained by the "Barwatch" system used in many Vancouver and Victoria nightclubs is in violation of Section 7(2) of the B.C. B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act.

Section 7(2) says a business "must not, as a condition of supplying a product or service, require an individual to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information beyond what is necessary to provide the product or service." The Commissioner accepted that it is "necessary" to collect personal information of certain customers for the purpose of operating a nightlife establishment, but not "to develop and maintain a personal profile containing the personal information of all customers in order to effectively track the few who may be removed from, and subsequently barred from re-entering, an establishment."

Barwatch chairmain John Teti and Owen Cameron, the president of the company the provides the scanning machines, TreoScope, are both claiming to be "baffled" by the ruling and arguing that the ruling only applies to the club from which the particular complaint before the Privacy Commission originated, and vow to continue "business as usual." This is despite a similar ruling in Alberta that rendered the scanning of I.D. by the Alberta Barwatch programme illegal. Legislation in Alberta allows the taking of names and ages only, along with a photograph.

The British Columbia ruling is similar in nature. The B.C. Privacy Commissioner found that "it isreasonable, be able, in order to preserve a safe environment for customers, to identify those individuals who have been determined to be violent, or otherwise undesirable for re-entry from a safety perspective, and thus improve customer safety" (para. 127). He went on to say, however, that "much of the information collected by the TreoScope system", including driver’s licence numbers, "does not further this safety purpose", adding, "Moreover, I have not been provided with any reason related to improved customer safety for an establishment’s retention of any information at all relating to customers who are not involved in violent incidents" (para. 127).

John Teti claims, "Our paramount concern is public safety." But it is far more likely that Teti and Cameron are far more concerned about their revenue stream. The scanning machines created by B.C.-based TreoScope Technologies, cost $4,700 plus a $150-a-month maintenance fee, on top of the cost of training staff, and have been installed in more than 100 bars across B.C.

"Our fear is that his ruling has put Barwatch out of business," John Teti said.

The bar involved in the original complaint, The Wild Coyote, has 30 days from July 21 to appeal the ruling, but should they appeal it is very unlikely that the appeal will succeed. Failing appeal the precident is set and the British Columbia Barwatch programme will likely have to follow what has already been done in Alberta.


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