Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alberta pawnshop owner loses privacy battle

According to the Edmonton Journal, an Edmonton pawnshop owner who has been waging a battle against the mandatory uploading of personal information of those who pawn items to a central database has lost his battle, at least in the Court of Queen's Bench. This reverses a decision of the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Past posts on this story: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Edmonton's pawnshop database violates privacy laws, Alberta commissioner rules, Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Edmonton pawnshop owner takes a stand over electronic reporting of personal information of customers to police.

Pawnshop owner loses privacy battle By Gordon Kent, The Edmonton Journal January 10, 2009

An Edmonton second-hand dealer vows to continue fighting for customer privacy after a judge quashed an order that would have forced the city to destroy pawnshop customer information.

In a decision released Friday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Joanne Veit ruled Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work was wrong when he concluded the city can't force pawnshops to upload personal client details to an outside company's database.

"The requirement to record information about the pawnor, as well as about the goods, is clearly intended to discourage trades in stolen property, and to help police investigate reports of stolen property," Veit wrote.

"Uploading information electronically to a secure database ... is therefore just a system of doing, in 2005, the equivalent of what was done (on paper) in 1896." Changes made four years ago to Edmonton's licensing bylaw require stores to record each customer's name, address, birthday, gender, eye colour, hair colour and item pawned. The information is on a database managed for the police by Business Watch International Inc. of Saskatchewan.

Work determined last February that reasonable steps hadn't been taken to safeguard the information and instructed the city to eliminate it.

The judge, however, said the database is outside Edmonton's control and includes material that isn't covered by the bylaw.

Shops have continued to provide personal data and no information was destroyed during the appeal of Work's ruling.

The matter was raised as a test case by Pioneer Exchange owner Kelly Buryniuk, who sold a DVD player to Mill Woods Cash Converters in 2006 and then complained to Work about the process for handling his personal information.

He said he was disappointed by the judge's decision and will probably contact the federal privacy commissioner about the issue that's viewed differently in different provinces.

"I have had hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of customers come up and thank me for proceeding with this because they thought it was an injustice and their rights were being violated," said Buryniuk, who didn't take part in the October court hearing.

"They understand the collection of information. They don't understand how that information can be given wholesale to another company." Local police have been gathering written details of pawnshop transactions for more than 100 years, but the old approach became so cumbersome that officers were picking up more than 200,000 sheets of paper a year and taking six weeks to enter them into computers.

Buryniuk said the electronic system isn't leading to the recovery of more property and allows police to go on "fishing expeditions" through personal material.

"Even if the decision came the other way, in my favour, the pawnshops would still be required to collect the information. It's just that the police would have to have just cause to access (it)." But Coun. Ed Gibbons, whose northeast Ward 3 has more than two dozen pawnshops, said he's glad the city won its case.

"I'm just a layman saying, 'What's the big problem?' I don't think they're all criminals. I think there's a percentage. We should be monitoring," he said.

"There's merit behind checking stuff and seeing whether it's stolen or not. If it comes with a little bit of cost with somebody's privacy, so be it."

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