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Privacy commissioner orders LCBO to stop collecting personal info

An LCBO store in Toronto, Ont. on Dec. 14, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's privacy commissioner has ordered the LCBO to stop collecting personal information from people who buy alcohol through wine clubs.

Ann Cavoukian's decision came after the Vin de Garde wine club complained that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario required it to provide the names, addresses, phone numbers and selections of everyone taking part in its bulk orders.

The LCBO said it needed the information to prevent wine club members from illegally reselling alcohol, to help with product recalls and to audit orders. However, Ms. Cavoukian rejected the claims.

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"The LCBO has not provided my office with much more than anecdotal or hypothetical evidence to support its position that the illegal resale of liquor by wine clubs in this province is so problematic that it necessitates the collection of the personal information of club members who purchase wine through their clubs," she wrote last week.

Ms. Cavoukian also ordered the LCBO to destroy all personal information collected from club members. She asked the LCBO to provide proof it is following the order by May 28.

The LCBO is reviewing the decision and will "consider our next steps," spokeswoman Heather MacGregor said in an e-mail. In the meantime, it is temporarily suspending new wine club orders.

The LCBO has a private ordering department that wine, spirit and beer clubs use to make large orders on behalf of their members. Such clubs often allow people to buy alcohol that is not available on regular store shelves.

Vin de Garde argued that the requirement to provide personal details allowed the LCBO to collect information about individuals' consumption habits while robbing them of the same level of privacy as shoppers who buy alcohol off the shelf.

"Any time you don't have to start divulging all your information all over the place you shouldn't," said Warren Porter, president of the club, which he said has thousands of members in Ontario.

Mr. Porter said the LCBO began refusing to fill the club's orders last March unless it provided detailed member information. The club suspended operations in December, but Mr. Porter plans to start accepting orders again as soon as the LCBO changes its policy.

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"We see this as a major benefit of having an entity like the privacy commissioner on our side because without that avenue, we would have had to shut down because we simply cannot afford to fight the government," he said.

Ms. Cavoukian said she doesn't have any issue with the LCBO requiring personal information for wine club members who are picking up their orders directly from the retailer, saying it is necessary to administer such sales. Her ban on collecting such data applies to situations where clubs take delivery of large orders on behalf of members.

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