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'We feel terrible': Vancouver tour company apologizes as privacy commissioner looks into breach
A tour company that organizes school field trips for B.C. students is apologizing for dumping personal information in the recycling bin of a sorting room where hundreds of Yaletown residents and others had access.
Peter Meiszner, who lives in the residential area of the mixed-use building on Cambie Street, was stunned to find sensitive financial and personal information when he dropped off his recycling in his building’s loading bay Thursday evening.
"I found everything from photocopies of passports, cheques, banking information to student information, so I was pretty shocked," he told CTV News the next day.
CTV reviewed the material and found thousands of pages of documents, including parent consent forms, passenger manifests for flights, and full-colour, high-resolution copies of credit cards and passports that are still valid. Some medical information like allergies was also included on some forms.
"Everything you would need, theoretically, to steal somebody's identity is there," said Meiszner.
The header on the documents is for Affinity Group Tours, a company that’s facilitated school field trips for students throughout B.C. since 1983. The office is on the ground floor of Meiszner’s building and shares the same garbage and recycling facilities.
"It's an unfortunate situation and we feel terrible about it. It's just really an honest mistake in a small business," said company owner Shawn Gallacher.
Speaking to journalists outside the company’s office, Gallacher blamed his 16-year-old son, who is helping out as a summer job, for mixing up documents intended for storage versus those meant to be shredded and recycled.
“These are [documents] from 2016 and 2017. We have, since this time, gone to an online booking system where we're not using any passports and we are not using any cheques anymore, so it's all 100 per cent online," said Gallacher, who insisted nothing like this has happened before and that his company has been diligent about shredding personal information.
He insisted he would be acting immediately to destroy the documents in the loading bay.
Vancouver police told CTV News that the issue doesn’t constitute a criminal offence, but the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has opened a file and is working with Affinity Group Tours.
“When a privacy breach occurs, our staff work with public bodies and private organizations to help them contain the breach, evaluate any risks, notify those affected, and implement improved security measures," the office said in an email statement.
The privacy commissioner also sent the company a “Privacy Breach Checklist,” which includes questions around how many people have been impacted and whether the company has notified them.
"We will try to contact everyone, all the schools involved and the kids involved," said Gallacher. “We’re just hopeful that it will not impact anyone.”
Meiszner, who was the victim of identity theft out of Florida just last year, isn’t impressed with the explanation, nor Gallacher’s complaint that Meiszner should’ve contacted the company rather than tweeting about the discarded information.
"This is people's passports, this is wire transfer information, there's even credit card CVC codes," he pointed out.
"I feel for them. If they knew that [their information was here], I'm sure they'd be furious."