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Commissaries start to scan IDs

Nov. 7, 2013 - 04:40PM   |  
Commissary cashiers worldwide soon will be scanning military ID cards at registers.
Commissary cashiers worldwide soon will be scanning military ID cards at registers. (Kevin L. Robinson / DeCA)
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Commissary cashiers worldwide soon will be scanning military ID cards at registers under a Defense Commissary Agency program that is rolling out worldwide.

The commissary at Fort Lee, Va., home to DeCA headquarters, began scanning ID cards Oct. 22. Other stores will gradually join in between Nov. 10 and mid-January.

Among other things, this move will for the first time allow commissary and defense officials to track the demographic characteristics of those using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly called food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) nutrition program. While the redemption of food stamps in particular has increased over the last five years, officials have ben unable to tell if those families are active-duty, reservists or retired.

The information collected will not personnally identify any SNAP or WIC recipients, nor will it collect any customers’ names, addresses or phone numbers, officials emphasized.

In addition, they’ll be able to link purchases as a whole to the customer base as a whole, to help DeCA target products and services to particular stores. Since no data will be collected on individuals, those purchases will not be linked to a specific person, said DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson.

Until now, cashiers simply checked customers’ ID to make sure they were authorized to shop. Scanning the bar code on the back of IDs will eliminate the need for the agency to maintain any personal information on customers in its computer systems, officials said, including the system used for verification of personal checks.

Customers won’t be allowed to opt out of the scanning.

DeCA will not collect personal data on individuals, such as names, addresses or phone numbers, and only the agency will use the bar code information.

“The methods, process and information we’ll use will not compromise our customers’ privacy – they can be sure of that,” said Joseph Jeu, DeCA director and CEO, in a statement announcing the new policy.”We’re putting technology to work to better understand our customers and ensure the commissary benefit continues to remain relevant to them now and in the future.”

Information about who is using particular commissaries — such as young active-duty families, retirees and reservists — will help DeCA tailor its products and services directly to patrons at particular stores, officials said.

Until now, DeCA has not collected information on the population using its stores. Usage information also will be provided to the military services.

More than 5.7 million people are eligible to use commissaries. According to the latest available Defense Department demographic information, among that total are 1.4 million active duty members; 855,867 National Guard and Reserve members; 2.2 million retirees; and about 1.1 million spouses. Survivors and 100 percent disabled veterans also are eligible to use commissaries.

By cross-referencing the information on IDs with other DoD data in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility System (DEERS) , officials will be able to glean information about customer usage, such as branch of service, rank, military status (active duty, reservist, retiree, survivor, disabled veteran, family member, etc.) household size and ZIP codes of residence and duty station.

“In addition to verifying customers as authorized commissary patrons, we’ll gain information that will give us a better understanding of our patrons, allowing the agency to provide the commissary benefit more effectively and efficiently,” Jeu said.

Cashiers will continue to separately scan commissary rewards cards, which apply digital coupon discounts that customers downloaded from the website.

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