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Pubs are reopening in the UK. Could this become yet another data privacy issue?

By Alma Fabiani

Jun 27, 2020

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When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday 23 June that pubs would be allowed to reopen on 4 July after shutting down during the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us were quick to celebrate the news. But the opportunity to finally meet your friends at the pub could come at a hefty price. Upon entry, customers will have to provide personal information in order to help coronavirus contact tracing. Understandably, this raised concerns over how exactly the data will be handled. Will there be a secure way to collect the data?

Pubs and other hospitality businesses will have to follow the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs the handling and processing of data, and will technically only be allowed to collect ‘necessary’ personal data. This means that businesses will have to make sure that customers’ personal information is kept securely and not retained for longer than needed, which for hospitality businesses might prove challenging.

In response to the rising challenges this will bring, the UK government claims that this will be done by keeping a temporary record of customers for 21 days “in a way that is manageable for your business”—whatever that means. The government added it will set out details shortly on how exactly pubs and restaurants can design this system while staying in line with data protection regulation.

Similar data collection proved to be an issue in countries such as New Zealand, Italy and Germany where some employees allegedly used the information gathered to harass customers through texts, Facebook Messenger and emails.

Sharing this kind of personal data is bound to be intrusive as customers will be showing where they were, how long for, and who they were with. On top of that, pubs and restaurants will collect inconsistent and probably unverified data, which could present an important risk if any data were hacked or lost.

While some hospitality businesses are awaiting further information, it remains unclear whether going to pubs will be safe (both health-wise and privacy-wise). A small number of pubs have also decided to wait another month before reopening in order to properly put systems in place.

Taking this into consideration, it is likely that many of us will ignore any data privacy concerns in order to enjoy our first real pint in three months. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to only give the minimum amount of information required.