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Starting next Friday, Ontarians will have to give their names and contact information anytime they dine in at a restaurant or bar. (Stu Mills/CBC)

New Ontario law requiring personal info for dining in prompts privacy concerns

Restaurants required to take names, contact info of diners to improve contact tracing

Patrons in Ontario looking to dine out at restaurants, bars and even boat tours will soon need to provide their names and contact information under a new law intended to improve COVID-19 contact tracing, raising some concerns with a privacy expert.

The regulations come into effect next Friday and require everyone remain seated unless they're picking up food or going to the washroom. Their names and contact information will also have to be kept on file for 30 days.

"It seems every week we do get a whole new list of protocols that are put into place. Some of them reasonable, some of them not so reasonable, but we've been able to negotiate happy mediums for most of those protocols," said Bob Firestone, owner of the Blue Cactus Bar & Grill in the ByWard Market.

Business has been picking up at his restaurant, with a packed — but physically distanced — patio most evenings. 

He plans to abide by the rules, likely by writing down the names and contact information of people as they're seated, and then transferring that information into a computer database the next day.

Bob Firestone, owner of the Blue Cactus restaurant and bar, says he plans to abide by the province's new regulations but it will mean more work for his staff. (Stu Mills/CBC)

End to anonymity, says expert

That raises some concerns for Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

She understands why the government is introducing the regulations, after an uptick in cases linked primarily to bars, but believes it means the end to anonymous dining — at least for now.

"I think for many people that has implications both for their privacy and perhaps also for their freedom of association," she said.

But she also points out it's a balance.

"Those are our fundamental rights that are important to us, but our rights under the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] are always balanced against other competing public interests, and in this case the competing public interest is controlling the spread of COVID-19."

Privacy laws dictate how to collect, destroy data

She said these companies have to abide not only by the new rules, but existing privacy laws.

That means ensuring employees are trained on how to collect people's information and dispose of it properly after the month is up.

"You can't just scribble the names down and leave the sheet of paper sitting at the front entrance way. You have to securely store the information," she said. "You don't toss lists in the garbage. If they're handwritten lists, you shred them, or if they're on a computer, you make sure the file is properly deleted."

Starting next Friday, Ontarians will have to give their names and contact information anytime they dine in at a restaurant or bar. (Stu Mills/CBC)

There's also what she terms "the human factor" – making sure employees or anyone else don't misuse the information for their own purposes.

As of Friday, people could also download a new COVID Alert app that lets users know if they've been in close proximity with someone who has been infected with the novel coronavirus.

Scassa points out the app and the collection of people's personal information are overlapping measures. If one fails — such as if someone doesn't bring their phone with them to the bar or doesn't have it turned on — the other should help health officials get in touch with those people.

For Firestone, he hopes the weather remains good, business continues to pick up and people remain vigilant.

"Everybody's got to work collectively to follow the rules so we can all come to work on a daily basis and not feel nervous that we're going to get shut down."

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