Big Brother Bar Hops

Plans for a state-of-the-art security system that would link bars and nightclubs throughout Vancouver's downtown area have been put on hold. The new system would link individual security systems digitally so that information on unruly patrons could be shared from one establishment to another.

John Teti , president of BarWatch, an organization of Vancouver bar and nightclub owners, told the Straight he did not believe an increased security system was necessary at this time. He also cited patrons' privacy rights as added incentive for the decision to hold off on the new system's release.

TreoScope Technologies, a Vancouver-based security and data-managing firm, designed the system BarWatch establishments are presently using. Many bars on and around Granville scan patrons' IDs and take their picture upon entrance, Teti explained. A file is created that is kept on a TreoScope server for two years.

The proposed linked system would allow information on flagged individuals to be shared. Effectively, troublesome patrons would be banned from Vancouver nightclubs for an unspecified amount of time, Teti said.

According to a City of Vancouver administrative report, the mandate for ID scanners in bars originated in a May 2003 agreement between BarWatch and the Vancouver Police Department. Teti said bar owners and managers communicate verbally already and that the informal system was working fine.

"It's really easy to communicate on Granville Street now," Teti said. "So we don't really need to be linked."

The police agree. "The bars are doing a good job right now sharing information," Sgt. Curtis Robinson , a patrol officer for the Granville area told the Straight . "If that system could be improved”¦I'm all for it, but that's going to be left up to the industry."

The security upgrades already have their challengers. In February 2006, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., questioning if the current system violated the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. More complaints could follow if a linked system is made, a representative of the Commissioner's office has said.

"It's an issue that has fairly wide application," Errol Nadeau, a portfolio officer with the OIPC, told the Straight .

The complaint presently before the OIPC is against the Wild Coyote nightclub and TreoScope Technologies and focuses on issues of consent.

The BCCLA's Murray Mollard alleged to the Straight that the security measures, though originally designed for age-verification purposes, had expanded to include activities that could put patrons' privacy at risk.

Teti said that if a serious incident ever did occur in an establishment where TreoScope's technology was deployed, the police could file a warrant for any information collected and use it in an investigation. "If something does happen like that, at least there's a log of who was in that bar. And so through a warrant, the police could access that," he said.

That sort of thing concerns civil liberties' advocates. "It is a profoundly perverse principle that suggests that where there is the potential to commit a crime, you can collect everybody's personal information," Mollard said.

Teti later stated security measures undertaken by the entertainment industry may need to be revised to ensure public safety and individuals' privacy are sufficiently balanced. "You could put up a sign saying that, if criminal activity takes place, this information may find its way to the courts," he reflected. A quick survey taken by the Straight of clubs on Granville Street revealed many establishments are still using TreoScope's ID scanners and photographing patrons upon entry.