Canadian privacy watchdog warns cannabis users to use cash, not credit, for purchases

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A Canadian privacy watchdog is warning Canadians who have or plan to purchase cannabis to avoid using their credit cards and instead use cash, especially if they plan on travelling outside of Canada.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien posted a statement on his website this week warning cannabis users and anyone who may purchase cannabis about the risks associated with using your credit card. He also provided guidelines for purchasers to understand more about their privacy rights.

 “Cannabis is illegal in most jurisdictions outside of Canada,” reads the statement. “The personal information of cannabis users is therefore very sensitive. For example, some countries may deny entry to individuals if they know they have purchased cannabis, even lawfully.”

“If you are concerned about using your credit card, and the option is available, consider using cash to purchase cannabis.”

Unfortunately for many Canadians, the option to purchase cannabis with cash is unavailable, unless they choose to go the way of the black market. Ontario, for example, does not yet have legal storefronts and won’t until April 2019 at the earliest. The Ontario Cannabis Store is the only legal option currently available and it only exists online for the time being. Many other Canadians live in areas where it’s difficult to get to a store, so ordering online is the easiest option.

This warning also comes after months of Canadian cannabis users being targeted at the U.S. border for admitting they’ve used cannabis when asked by a guard.

However, the responsibility doesn’t only fall on the purchaser. Therrien also provided a warning and guidelines for retailers to be more aware of their rights and obligations when dealing with sensitive customer information.

“One way to minimize the possibility of disclosure to foreign governments (given that cannabis use is not legal in most other jurisdictions), and reduce the impacts of a data breach, or other incidents that reveal purchasers’ names or other customers’ personal information, is to refrain from recording customers’ personal information.”

He suggested that retailers only record an email and not a full name for mailing lists or memberships. He added that if the store must collect personal information, to be mindful about where that data is then stored.

“Keep in mind that storing data in the Cloud or in proprietary software means there is likely transfer of storage of that personal information outside of Canada, which could then potentially be accessed by foreign law enforcement. … [P]otential access to this data by foreign governments is of particular concern, which means it will generally be more privacy protective to store personal information on a server located in Canada.”

Therrien also suggests that retailers not use video surveillance unless other less intrusive security measures can’t be met, and that if video surveillance is being used, there needs to be signage so the customer is aware.

“The best way for ensuring (compliance) is for management to emphasize that protection of personal information is a company priority and to ensure that all staff are trained in, understand, and follow the privacy policy in everyday transactions.”  

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