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Diners’ private information compromised when left in open

Personal information is solely for contact tracing, not marketing: B.C. privacy commissioner
B.C. 's privacy commissioner has raised concerns about restaurants leaving sign-in sheets for customers' names and phone numbers for COVID-19 contact tracing out in the open where everyone can see them.

B.C. restaurants shouldn’t be leaving pandemic contact-tracing sign-in sheets in the open where everyone can see them, B.C.’s privacy commissioner says.

Michael McEvoy said a staff member should be collecting the names and contact information and shielding that data from other people.

“When you collect it, you need to treat it securely which means you don’t put people’s names on a piece of paper and leave it out for other people to see,” McEvoy said. “This is not a matter of public display, collecting this kind of information.”

“You shouldn’t collect more than you need to,” he said. “It’s necessary for contact tracing by the public health officer.”

When eateries began re-opening their doors for diners in June as pandemic restrictions eased, restaurants were ordered by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to keep track of customers. That involved collecting one name and a phone number or email address for contact tracing in the case of infection. The information was to be kept for 30 days.

However, the practice of leaving a sign-in sheet at front doors has been common and prompted complaints to B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. 

McEvoy said the information is collected for the lone purpose of contact tracing if needed and should only be used for that purpose alone.

The commissioner said businesses leaving sign-in sheets in the open that have been complained about have been told the practice is not appropriate.

He said there have also been complaints of restaurants using the contact information for marketing purposes.

“That is absolutely wrong,” he said. “It’s actually against the law.”

And, McEvoy said, using that information for marketing does nothing to build customer trust.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had a lot of complaints about that kind of thing,” he said.

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