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Okay, let’s to it…here are some of the emails that we received yesterday about whether or not frequent shopper data should be accessed by law enforcement authorities.

One MNB user wrote:

I read your story with much interest on Safeway giving frequent shopper card information to authorities in Seattle. Your comments were that "in this case, the database clearly helped to finger the wrong guy. That is troubling." The troubling part in this whole story is that the AUTHORITIES (not Safeway) pegged the wrong. Your words seem to indicate that in some way Safeway was responsible for the error and that is just not true. I am not a legal expert but I would guess that Safeway did not voluntarily hand over the information and did so only after the authorities presented a subpoena for Safeway to provide the information. In no way shape or form should Safeway be held accountable if the guy was innocent…

Also it should be noted that many privacy clauses are waived in the event to prove a crime (doctor-patient, spouses, attorney-client to name a few). Frequent shopper cards should not be held to any higher standard in the event if the data stored on them helps to prove a crime and the information is obtained legally via a subpoena.

Another MNB user wrote:

If these loyalty card purchase records can be subpoenaed by law enforcement agencies they probably also can be subpoenaed in a civil action as well. For example, a person whose loyalty card showed purchases of three bottles of wine and two cases of beer a week might have trouble winning a legal action asserting a drug he was taking caused liver damage.

Yet another MNB user offered:

There was a case here not too long ago in which an adult was charged with criminal endangerment & negligent homicide for supplying beer to a high school graduation party. One of the youths drove home from the party & rolled his vehicle, killing himself. One of the central pieces of evidence against the adult was Albertsons frequent shopper program showing a large purchase of beer the day before. I would think that as these stories become more widely broadcast, there would be a backlash against the programs. I, myself, don’t care for them as they don’t make me more loyal, and I hate carrying multiple cards wherever I go.

MNB user Bill Hogan wrote:

Customers are certainly aware that data is being collected. How different is this than the police getting information from credit card records?

Are stores expected to provide a higher degree of security and privacy than credit cards?

My question: Did the police need a subpoena?

Another MNB user wrote:

Would people with things they want to hide, e.g. purchasing equipment/ingredients to be used for illegal purposes, really sign up for a loyalty card? If so, and if they also believe supermarket protestations of confidentiality, then they are obviously stupid enough to deserve what they get.

MNB user Scott Williams wrote:

In response to the "Loyalty Program Gone Awry" it should be noted that any retailer accepting credit cards, debit cards or personal checks as a form of payment is very likely to retain in its databases the purchase transaction information for all of its customers using these forms of payment that link directly to the purchaser.

Law enforcement agencies have accessed this information to trace the activities of individuals for decades before loyalty card programs existed.

If the concern is about privacy, we as consumers have only one way of truly limiting the information about us... pay cash.

Recognize that the convenience and benefits of using credit/debit cards and checks and participating in retailer customer loyalty programs for the vast majority of us honest and law abiding consumers is well worth the personal exposure.

I have personally benefited from these programs by receiving coupons and offers directed specifically to me based on my purchase behavior. I have also been able to return products to large home improvement and mass merchandising retailers without a receipt as proof-of-purchase because my purchase transaction using the credit card was on file and retrieved at the time of the return.

As is typical in these kinds of debates, there are two sides of the story. You have missed the other, more obvious side on this one.

Another MNB user wrote:

"Safeway does not sell or lease..." It says nothing about giving it away....

For the record, we are not anti-frequent shopper programs.

We actually believe strongly in the concept, though we would maintain that few retailers have used them correctly or effectively.

But we believe the issue of privacy – which is one that a lot of consumers feel passionately about – is one that must be considered by the retailing community.
KC's View: