Four Calgary liquor stores will require customers to scan ID before entering

Four liquor stores in Calgary are being outfitted with controlled entry systems that require customers to scan their ID before they come inside after a similar pilot project in Edmonton proved to be successful at combating theft.

Pilot project proved successful at Edmonton shops, but privacy advocates have raised concerns

In an effort to prevent violent thefts and robberies at liquor stores, Calgary police are partnering with retailer Alcanna Inc. to bring in controlled entrances at four stores in the city. (CBC)

Four liquor stores in Calgary are being outfitted with controlled entry systems that require customers to scan their ID before they come inside after a similar pilot project in Edmonton proved to be successful at combating theft.

Calgary police are working with the liquor retail company Alcanna, and with Patronscan, the firm that makes a digital system that validates government-issued identification before letting customers enter a store.

Alcanna says the stores in Edmonton that had the system installed achieved a 94 per cent reduction in theft and a complete elimination of robberies.

Calgary police say the four stores in Calgary that will take part in the project reported 245 incidents involving theft from January 2020 to April 2021.

Citywide, more than 2,400 incidents at Calgary liquor stores were reported to police in that time span.

"Violent attacks including the use of knives, weapons and bear spray are not uncommon during thefts and robberies in liquor stores," police said in a release.

The four Calgary locations taking part in the project are:

  • ACE Liquor TransCanada, 1440 52nd St. N.E.
  • ACE Liquor Crossroads, 2148 18th Ave. N.E.
  • Liquor Depot Montgomery, 5032 16th Ave. N.W.
  • Liquor Depot North Hill, 1632 14th Ave. N.W.

"The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police has called for a provincewide requirement of controlled entrances for all liquor stores," said Alcanna president Tank Vander.

"We are confident that this partnership with the Calgary Police Service to introduce controlled entrances in Calgary will show the same drastic reduction in thefts and robberies as our pilot program in Edmonton has demonstrated."

The Patronscan device collects a customer's name, age and photograph. The information is then stored on Patronscan's secure server for 21 days. Store personnel cannot access the information and police officials can only do so if a crime has been committed.

Privacy concerns and investigation

But a Calgary-based privacy expert says installing this technology at liquor stores is fraught with the potential for data breaches and other risks that may be poorly understood.

"The problem is even the lawmakers and the bureaucrats who applaud these technological programs, they're like so many other people in the general population who know remarkably little about the technologies that they're approving and welcoming," said Sharon Polsky, president of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada.

"And they are at the mercy of the vendors to explain what the problems are. If you don't know what something is about, you don't know the tough questions to ask."

Polsky noted the Patronscan devices were the subject of an investigation launched last year by Alberta's Information and Privacy Commissioner.

In January 2020, the commissioner's office said it was caught off guard when the pilot project launched.

At the time, the CEO of Alcanna said Patronscan had "been working with privacy offices in Alberta, Canada, across North America, to make sure this is all privacy compliant with both laws and norms of society."

But in a statement later issued to CBC News, a spokesperson for privacy commissioner Jill Clayton described that statement as "misleading."

"There has been no consultation with our office on this project," Scott Sibbald wrote at the time. "We first heard of this project through media reports."

Polsky said assurances that data will be kept safe, secure and confidential are often broken, even with the best of intentions.

"Even the Pentagon and the White House, they get breached," she said.

"You think a liquor store is going to be able to do better? I doubt it."


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