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Buffer zone privacy argument doesn't hold water

The city says that they can no longer release maps of where the buffer zones are, because it violates personal privacy.

I find that argument dubious. It just doesn't hold up to even the most minor scrutiny.

The city will tell you if your home is in a buffer zone — which means you'll know if one of your neighbours asked for one. And I'll bet you'd have a pretty good idea of who on your block would be most likely to ask for one.

But the city won't tell us all, in aggregate, where the buffer zones are. I live in the east end, and if someone on my block asked for a buffer zone I would know where to point the finger. But I don't care if someone on 26th Street has a buffer zone, and I wouldn't be able to identify who might ask for a buffer zone in a neighbourhood that's not my own.

So holding back buffer zones to protect privacy makes no sense if you eagerly release the information only to the people who would actually be in the know.

It doesn't have to be exact addresses of the buffer zones. Releasing the hundred-block would fuzz the address enough — it's good enough to protect the privacy of crime victims, according to the police. And it would be enough that people across the city would have no idea who had requested it, but would still let us know approximately where they were.

That's useful, important information.

Aggregate information about buffer zones would allow Brandon citizens, including us in the media, to have an informed decision about them. Are they concentrated in one area? What percentage of the city do they cover? Do they overlap? Do they cover parks or other mosquito breeding grounds? Do they cover community gardens or school yards? Are they in the same places year after year, or do people try them out for a year and then stop?

All of these questions could be answered with open data and transparency about buffer zones.

Instead, the city cites a privacy ruling that makes no sense — that they can release your private information directly to your neighbours, but they cannot release vague information to anonymous strangers from across the city.

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By the way, just how big are buffer zones?

Well, a 90-metre buffer zone is about 300 feet. Most Brandon homes have yard frontages of 50 feet. That means that one person's buffer zone ends up blanketing five or six yards to both their right and left, for a total of 10-12 homes. Plus theirs Accounting for the width of the street, and they could add another 10 homes on the other side of the street.

Here's an illustration of the size of the buffer zones, which I made using mayor Shari Decter Hirst's home (just because she's the mayor, I have no idea whether she's asked for a buffer zone or not).

It's difficult to see on a Google map, but a buffer zone at her house would cover nearly two blocks east-west and nearly a full block north-south. It's probably more than two dozen homes.

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