No, going to a restaurant will not invade your privacy

Dining out is a privilege

After Dr. Bonnie Henry eased restrictions on restaurants in B.C. this week, citizens all across the province debated whether the terms of the order allowing restaurants to reopen were too restrictive. 

And while there were some legitimate points being made, most of the debate was, frankly, absolute nonsense. 

Dr. Henry’s order sets out the following restrictions on restaurants that choose to reopen at this point in time: 

  • Patrons not in the same party must be able to remain at least two meters apart from any other patrons; 
  • Tables and chairs must be arranged to keep a two-meter distance between each party; 
  • No more than six people are permitted to be seated at the same table; 
  • The restaurants must operate at only 50% of their ordinary capacity; 
  • No events are permitted where more than 50 people are in attendance; and
  • The restaurant must maintain contact information for at least one person in the party, in the event it is needed for contact tracing. 

The aspect of the order that appears to be causing the most consternation is the provision requiring contact information to be collected by the restaurant. People believe that this is a violation of their privacy rights, as they do not want their contact information to be collected and turned over to the government. 

There is no merit to those concerns. 

First of all, it is only in rare circumstances in which the contact information would be provided to government. The contact information is not automatically provided to the Provincial Health Officer’s office; rather, it is collected and retained in the event that the Health Officer contacts the restaurant when investigating an outbreak. This means if you are exposed to COVID-19 while at the restaurant, the contact information is used to notify you so that you can be tested and those that you have been in contact with can be notified. 

Essentially, it is to protect you from getting sick and from spreading the disease to others. 

And the information that is collected is not information the government does not already have access to in a public health emergency. For example, recently if you took a flight and were seated in an affected seat, airlines turned over your information to the Provincial Health Officer to contact you and notify you about possible exposure. 

The idea that people would be up in arms about government having one piece of contact information for them is also absurd. One can only assume that these same individuals do not have driver’s licenses - which require you to provide contact information to government - or BC Services Cards - also which require contact information - or purchase car insurance, which requires you to provide both an address and telephone number to, you guessed it, a government agency. 

In short, you are not providing the government with information they do not already have. You’re simply providing a restaurant with information that allows the government to notify you if it is in the interest of your health and safety. 

And while some may complain that they government shouldn’t know where you choose to dine, you do provide this type of information to government every single year. If you’ve ever written off a meal as a business expense on your taxes, you’ve given the government your contact information and information about restaurants that you visit. 

Finally, the complaint that the restaurant will have contact information is also meritless. The information is collected pursuant to obligations under a Public Health Order. The provisions of the Public Health Act prohibit disclosure of the information except as required for a public health purpose. 

That means no spam texts, no phone calls for marketing, and no mailing list signups with special offers and menu items. The information can and will only be used for the purposes of protecting public health.  

Let’s not forget: dining out is a privilege, not a right. 

And complaining that you have to hand over a little bit of information to exercise that privilege is in itself a complaint that is coming from a position of privilege. For the sake of public health, either check your privilege or eat at home. 

Kyla Lee is a lawyer with Acumen Law Corp. in Vancouver

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