In mid-2020, amidst the COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic, social media users began circulating an image of a sign purportedly posted by a McDonald’s restaurant, announcing that it would be collecting the names and phone numbers of everyone who placed orders there:
This image concerned many viewers who were provided no information about its context and were alarmed at the privacy implications if it were real.
This photograph was real, although it was not taken in, or applicable to, the United States. The sign makes reference to the “NB Emergency Measures Act,” where “NB” stands for the Canadian province of New Brunswick. On March 19, 2020, New Brunswick declared a state of emergency under the Emergency Measures Act and issued a mandatory order in response to the threat posed by COVID-19 to public health and safety. According to that mandatory emergency measure issued (and repeatedly renewed) by the provincial minister of public safety, Carl Urquhart, businesses in New Brunswick that admitted customers for purposes such as eating and drinking were required to “maintain a record of the names and contact information of all persons who attend” and to “make those records available to Public Health Inspectors”:
The purpose of such measures is to enable the tracking and tracing of any COVID-19 cases arising in persons who have visited a particular establishment, and to warn and protect other patrons who may have been exposed to them.