Protecting your driver’s licence

Retailers may ask you for your driver’s licence, especially when you want to return products without a sales receipt. Some stores just look at the card and give it back; others may want to write down the licence number, name or other information, and still others photocopy, scan or swipe the card for their records.

Driver’s licence numbers are unique to the driver and usually last a lifetime. The card contains a lot of your personal information. Depending on where you live, it may reveal your name, address, photograph, date of birth, gender and signature.

All this information is useful to retailers because it can confirm your identity and provide a unique identifying number that retailers can use for their own record-keeping.

But the fact that a driver’s licences hold a great deal of information and have credibility because they are issued by governments also makes them valuable to identity thieves, who can conceal their fraudulent activities behind authentic personal information.

So, if you’re asked to provide your driver’s licence, you may wish to consider asking a few questions before pulling it out of your wallet.

Why do stores ask to see driver’s licences?

You’re most likely to be asked to provide your driver’s licence when you want to return merchandise to a store without a sales receipt.

Retailers say a driver's licence is a way to make sure that a return is legitimate. They say that it's a way to keep track of such transactions and to deter fraud. For example, some crooks steal goods, and then attempt to "return" them for a refund, claiming they've lost their receipt.

Tip: Keep your sales receipt if there is even the slightest chance you might want to return an item.

Another reason a store might ask for identification, such as a driver’s licence, is to identify a customer, for example when someone arrives to pick up merchandise that was previously paid for or is being invoiced to an employer. In this type of case, we encourage retailers to have their employees examine the driver’s licence, then initial the related sales documents to confirm that this step was taken—a less privacy-invasive step than recording the person’s licence number to show that identification was checked.

In an effort to deter fraud, some retailers also ask to see a driver’s licence when a customer pays by credit card, since credit cards usually carry only the name of the cardholder. Again, it would usually be enough to examine the licence and photograph to verify that the person presenting the credit card is the cardholder.

How do privacy laws apply to stores collecting driver’s licences?

Retail outlets and other private enterprises in most of Canada are subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). In B.C., Alberta and Quebec they are subject to provincial private sector privacy laws.

These laws require retailers to tell customers clearly why they are collecting their personal information, and to request only the information that would reasonably allow them to meet their business needs. This is the case even if a customer is prepared to offer more personal information. Retailers are also required to protect personal information in their care against risks such as unauthorized use or disclosure. 

For the most part, Privacy Commissioners have concluded that writing down the driver’s licence number from the card, or photocopying, “swiping” or otherwise reproducing the card itself, cannot be justified. The number may encode personal information, such as the licensee’s birth date, and the card contains a photograph, signature and other personal information that is more than what is actually needed for most business purposes. 

What can I do if a store clerk asks for my licence?

If you're asked for your licence card and you feel uncomfortable with the request, you can ask why it’s needed and whether the information on your card will be recorded.

If you’re not satisfied with the answer, you can ask whether it would be possible to simply provide your name and address. If only your driver's licence will do, you could suggest that they simply examine your card, without recording excess personal information.

Failing that, you can also raise your concerns with the person responsible for the retailer’s privacy practices and procedures (often called a “privacy officer.”)

If you are not satisfied with an organization’s response to your concerns, you can contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and discuss your concerns with one of our Information Officers.

For more information:

Our Office has also conducted a number of investigations that you may find relevant to your own experience. Case summaries include:

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