'A breach of privacy': Government issues reminder to hospitality sector over contact tracing details

The Ministry of Health has issued a reminder to the hospitality sector that customer contact tracing details are to be used for COVID-19 purposes only after concerns were raised over a complimentary coffee. 

Auckland woman Alice Canton revealed on Twitter she was offered a free coffee from a local cafe to thank her for supporting them during lockdown. Canton said she believes they used the email address provided for contact tracing measures. 

"I don't recall giving them permission to do so. Is this a customer data privacy breach?" Canton questioned. 

It's a question that has been on many lips since the reopening of bars and cafes under COVID-19 alert level 2. Customers' personal details - including email addresses and phone numbers - were noted down in case of new COVID-19 cases. 

While a free coffee is particularly low on the list of offences, Kiwis have previously raised security concerns over private information, especially after the launch of the official COVID-19 contact tracing app. 

Public confusion over the issue was evidenced by the mixed opinion on Canton's tweet. Some pointed out that most cafes had stipulations that "by entering the below you're open to receiving future communications" - a note many of us may miss when quickly noting down details. 

But others pointed to Privacy Commissioner John Edwards' previous statement warning the hospitality and retail sectors against using apps or websites asking for too much personal information.

Newshub approached the local cafe offering the coffee, who explained the optional email field was on their site's initial guest register, before they instated official Government tracing.

"We had mentioned that by submitting an email that they may receive future communications," explained the cafe's spokesperson. 

"Since then it's been used in the instance of saying thanks for supporting us - and offering a complimentary coffee on us. 

"This is the extent of communications people will be receiving." 

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Newshub they couldn't comment specifically on Canton's case, but noted that "ensuring people's details are kept private and upholding confidence in the contact tracing system is essential to ensure New Zealand is able to continue to respond to COVID-19".

"Any breach of privacy would undermine this," the spokesperson added. 

"People need to be confident that their information is used only for the purpose for which it was collected."

Now Aotearoa is in COVID-19 alert level 1, venues or premises that have visitors and customers no longer need to record or hold records of people's movement on their premises, but many are still helping customers to keep track of where they've been by displaying the NZ COVID Tracer QR code poster.