The Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. will soon be asking some customers to swipe more than just their debit and credit cards at the checkout.
The Crown corporation will test a program in the new year where it will be mandatory for those who look under 30 to have their identification scanned, in an effort to crack down on fake IDs.
NSLC put a call out Thursday for companies to bid on the contract for the scanners, the same day the Nova Scotia government announced that marijuana will be sold in certain liquor stores when it becomes legal in Canada.
“It’s very difficult for our employees to tell whether an ID is valid or not,” said spokesperson Beverley Ware.
Last year, NSLC carded customers 1.7 million times, she said. Just 11,000 of those cases — less than one per cent — ended in someone being refused a sale.
Ware said under the current system, NSLC has no way of measuring how many fake IDs slip through.
The tender calls for scanners that can detect “any form of photo ID issued by any government body in the world.” It said that includes drivers licences, and province-issued proof of age and health cards.
Ware said the the liquor corporation won’t store individual data.
“It won’t retain any personal information. It won’t retain the photo itself. There won’t be personal information stored whatsoever.”
But beyond that, it’s unclear what information liquor stores will take from the scanned cards. Ware said one possibility would be to track the times, dates and locations where fake IDs are used.
What happens in a small town?
That scenario comes with its own questions, said Toronto privacy lawyer Wendy Mee.
“Maybe they’ll use that information to say, you know, we typically get underage people at this time of day, but you should be a little bit more alert at that time of day but they’re unable to tell you which 18-year-old it was,” she said.
“It depends. Is it linked to a very small town when there’s six 18-year-olds? Then, all of a sudden that information is identifiable versus, you know, you’re in Halifax.”
Mee said the decision to sell marijuana in NSLC stores has likely increased the need to make sure people are using real IDs.
“The goal is a legitimate goal — they’re trying to prevent people using fake IDs to purchase liquor — so I think they need to be really careful about how the technology is implemented.”
Finance Minister Karen Casey is also trying to ease concerns about data collected through scanners.
“Any data that’s picked up would be, as always, kept in strictest confidence and privacy laws apply there. What they’re trying to look at is how authentic that piece of ID is,” she said. “I’m not aware of them tracking people’s purchases.”
Ware said she doesn’t know of scanners being used in other liquor stores in Canada, but it’s the same technology used in casinos and at Canadian borders.
In May, an Edmonton man spoke out after his ID was scanned without his permission at a 7-Eleven when he was buying cigarettes. The company said it was not collecting personal information, and that staff were instructed to respect his decision if he didn’t give consent.
The debate over ID scanners flared up in Alberta in 2005, when some bars used computer systems to compile lists of people visiting their clubs. The businesses maintained it increased safety, but the province’s privacy commissioner ordered them to stop.
There’s no cost estimate for the Nova Scotia program at this point, as it is still in the bidding phase.
If a provider is selected, the scanners could be installed in six stores as a pilot program in March. The NSLC said it could expand to 50 stores if the pilot is successful.