Bar security system raises alarms for patron

PatronScan system in Invermere the first of its kind in the Valley

A recent addition to Copper City Saloon had one customer concerned enough that she reached out to the Pioneer to investigate. However, the bar manager asserts the addition enhances the safety and security at the bar.

Leah Shoemaker went to Copper City this August with some friends. Her ID was checked at the door; she later realized it had been scanned and saved in a system called PatronScan.

“PatronScan security was used on my license without asking me for verbal consent. I was asked to show ID and I thought nothing of it. It was only later I found out what the door person was doing with my ID,” said Ms. Shoemaker. “A small sign is not OK and it is not consent. Patrons should be informed of this type of security monitoring so they can make an educated decision whether they want their personal information scanned, all in order to enter a bar.”

Under B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act, an establishment does need to inform a patron of the reason they are scanning ID before they can scan. However, that consent can be verbal or in writing.

Najee Beckford, bar manager at Copper City, walked the Pioneer through the system and the bar’s reasons for implementing it. He pointed out the multiple signs stating that customers show two pieces of ID, and the notice posted at the PatronScan system with details on the system.

Copper City typically starts using PatronScan later in the evening when the bar gets busier. An employee snaps a photo of each patron and matches it to their ID, which is scanned and saved for 24 hours.

PatronScan will pop up with a red flag if a patron has had problems at any establishment that uses that system. For example, Mr. Beckford explains, if a patron had gotten into a bar fight elsewhere, that bar would have the person’s ID flagged, citing the reasons why. The security personnel at Copper City can then decide whether they want to allow that person into the bar or not. The scanner is supposed to be able to detect fake IDs as well.

Ms. Shoemaker emphasized she does not think Copper City is trying to use the system for any purpose other than keeping patrons safe.

“However, this security system has the potential to truly target specific populations, especially if it becomes more common in Canada,” she said. “There are too many loopholes for me to feel secure with the future of this program. It worries me that this type of system is showing up in a rural Canadian community. There are better ways to keep people safe than PatronScan.”

But Copper City management is clear that they are using the system for safety and security of all customers, not to target minority groups.

“I’m not oppressing immigrants,” says Mr. Beckford, a black immigrant who hails originally from the Bahamas.

Mr. Beckford says PatronScan flags could not be based on racial profiling as the flags require specific reasons such as bar fights or illegal narcotics, and he feels confident the scanners will work to keep all customers safe in the bar.

“It helps us prevent conflict,” he says. “We want everyone to come and have a good time and feel safe and secure.”

He suggested it could help RCMP in their investigations as well.

Columbia Valley RCMP Sgt. Darren Kakuno said businesses have the right and responsibility to protect their business and guests, and some choose to utilize systems like PatronScan. However, he added, RCMP would need a legitimate reason to request security footage and information collected by a business.

“Should an incident occur at an establishment, police could make an application to obtain information that may assist in the investigation, including video footage or information from PatronScan, but it is not information police would access simply out of curiosity,” Sgt. Kakuno explained.

Across the street at ULLR Bar, co-owner Richard Matthews also tried out the PatronScan system. He points out that, scanning system or not, bars are private and can choose to allow or not allow whoever they would like into the establishment. Mr. Matthews said their top priority is providing a safe, fun, inclusive environment at the establishment.

PatronScan worked well at ULLR for security because if there was an incident, they would have a full log with IDs in correlation with the photo.

“We have zero tolerance for violence,” Mr. Matthews stated. So having a secure, guaranteed way to identify and flag patrons who cause serious problems was appealing.

Unfortunately for ULLR, they found the system was not accurately catching all fake IDs that were scanned in. There are heavy fines if an employee lets someone into a bar with fake ID, so ULLR management made the decision to pull the PatronScan system. But overall, Mr. Matthews liked it and, were it not for the issue of fake IDs, he said he likely would have kept the system in place. They have other security measures at ULLR, and Mr. Matthews said they are looking around at other potential systems that are similar to PatronScan.

Mr. Matthews and Mr. Beckford both stated they have had no other customer concerns raised regarding the PatronScan system aside from Ms. Shoemaker’s query.

Mr. Beckford moved to Invermere in January 2019 to take control of Copper City under its new ownership. A fire set back plans somewhat but by March the bar was operational under Mr. Beckford’s watch. In the spring, Copper City implemented the PatronScan system. Mr. Beckford urges anyone with questions about the security system to come down to Copper City and talk to him about it.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner

According to the provincial Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), there have been no issues raised with their office regarding scanning IDs in bars since 2009. An order was made by the OIPC in 2009 after a customer complained a bar was collecting more information than necessary for security systems through PatronScan’s predecessor, Treoscope. In a ruling under B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act, Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis ruled the Vancouver nightclub was collecting too much personal information from all customers, and retaining it for too long. The OIPC stated the company could only take what information it needs for 24 hours, or longer if there is an incident. In the commission’s report (P09-01), the Commissioner determined the bar (Wild Coyote Club) could only ask patrons for permission to scan their IDs, but couldn’t require them to scan as a condition of entering the bar. A month later in a press release, the office announced that bars can collect names, photographs, date of birth and gender of customers who enter a bar, but it can be retained for no more than 24 hours unless that customer is determined “undesirable from a safety perspective.”

Commenting on the new approach of scanning and saving information, the privacy commissioner at the time said, “This means only information necessary to identify bad apples will be kept and that’s good for all other bar customers.”

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