In line outside the chic downtown nightclub

They've stood in line outside the chic downtown nightclub for half an hour, slowly inching their way to the door, eager to be part of the throng inside. Now the couple faces the final hurdle. Before the doorman let's them in, he swipes their driver's licences through an electronic scanner and harvests the basic details of their lives- including name, sex, age and address.

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As the couple joins hundreds of others on the dance floor, their personal details are on their way to a database, becoming a marketing tool. Some clubs use that information to promote their own events, although management at several clubs point out that they don't share or sell their lists.

Most nightclub patrons just shrug, seeing it not as an invasion of privacy, but the price to be paid for entrance to the hottest clubs.

But Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian calls the scanning of identification an invasion of privacy, and hopes proposed legislation will curb these practices.

"I was appalled. I can't believe they do this," she said, after learning personal information is recorded without expressed consent. She added that Ontario should follow the lead of some U.S. states and encrypt personal information so scanners can't read it.

In the meantime, Cavoukian advised, show it- don't give it.

"To a young woman, I'd tell her not to relinquish her driver's licence card," Cavoukian said. "If they insist on taking it, just leave the bar and go somewhere else, because you never know what use they might make of that information."

A handful of downtown Toronto clubs use ID scanners to keep out minors with fake ID, help identify troublemakers whose names have been flagged in the database, and simultaneously record every identity.

The hand-held scanners verify that the information encrypted on the card's magnetic strip matches what appears on the front of the card. A match confirms that the ID is legitimate. The personal information- name, address, age, sex, height and expiry date- is recorded and later downloaded into a database.

Proponents say it's a surefire way of keeping minors from getting past doormen, and staff say they feel safer knowing an "electronic thumbprint" exists of everyone who enters, making it easier to nab suspects if a crime is committed.

But according to club staff, the majority of customers never ask what's being done with their identification. The curious few are often told only that the scanner verifies the card's authenticity.

At Tonic, which attracts 3,000 people each week, owner Jim Kambourakis was one of the first on the scene to use scanners two years ago. A small sign at the entrance to the Peter St. club advises people that scanned information can be used at the club's discretion.

Kambourakis has 55,000 names in his database. He says he has turned down offers of up to $100,000 from companies who want the list to help market their products.

"It's direct marketing for liquor or tobacco companies or whoever," he says, refusing to identify the interested buyers. "I have this audience that I've captured and I recycle. Do I want to feed other clubs or venues? You don't give away your secrets."

The club uses it's list to mail birthday invitations and free passes to customers. It's a good promotional tool, says Kambourakis, and it's effectiveness is confirmed by the hundreds of people who return with those passes each weekend.

Eric McDougall, 26, was recently surprised to receive free birthday passes to Tonic. But McDougall says he doesn't mind if clubs use or even sell his information- even though when he asked why his ID was being swiped, he was told it was for verification only.

"I'm not too concerned about it because they're not taking anything too confidential. If I do get any advertising, it might be something I'm actually interested in- it'd be targeted to me."

Carmela Maia, 25, admits she doesn't remember having her ID swiped at Tonic, but it's obvious she did, judging from the mail she has received.

"It sounds like Big Brother is keeping track of things," she says. "But it doesn't really bother me because they're sending me free stuff. Just so long as they keep the info in-house and don't sell it to anyone."

Heather St. James-Perry, manager of the freedom of information office for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, says the recorded information on a driver's licence belongs to the individual.

"It's a person's personal information and if they wish to use it for the purpose to have it swiped and if they consent to do that, then that's an action that they've taken. And the ministry has nothing to do with that at all," says St. James-Perry.

"The issue is that somebody doesn't think about what they are doing and then they start getting junk mail."

While scanning information from driver's licences is legal, it would be unethical if customers we're unaware of what's being done with their personal information, says a spokesperson for the Canadian Marketing Association.

A handful of clubs used to swipe health cards. But according to the provincial health ministry's Web site, "No one may collect your health number for databanks, credit checks, mass mailings or any other reason."

Within the club industry there are those, such as Limelight Nightclub operations manager Mike Giel, who refuse to use scanners. At Limelight, identification gets the traditional eyeball and math test.

"They might not mind getting junk mail, but the actual process in which you're getting their info is that you're stealing it without them knowing," says Giel. "It (the scanner) has benefits, I won't deny that, but I don't want to be liable should anything happen regarding that person's information."

Ontario, which plans to introduce privacy legislation by year's end, is amending the bill after the events of Sept. 11. The law would preclude the unauthorized use of personal information for purposes other than those intended, without an individual's consent- and an agency would oversee complaints and enforce the law.

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Posted in Law Post Date 07/02/2016