Your rights in an Australian supermarket. 14 replies

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jackripped

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2nd December 2009

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#1 11 years ago

If you walk into a large store of virtually any kind in Australia, you will see a sign just outside the door saying. "It is a condition of entry to this story that customers allow us to inspect the contents of their bags on leaving the shop". Typically, when you leave the shop, there is a security guard outside the door who asks to inspect the contents of your bag. Virtually all customers open their bag, the guard looks inside the bag, and then the customers go on their way. When growing up in Australia, I simply thought that this was the natural order of things. I never really thought about this as a violation of my privacy until I spent some time living in England in the 1990s. In England, such searches do not occur, presumably because either the British interpretation of the law is that they are not legal or the law is different. (I think that we are likely dealing different interpretations of the same common law here). When I returned to Australia, I suddenly became much more aware of bag searches in stores than had been the case before. And I became much more protective of my rights. I found that I was very unwilling to let anyone look in whatever bags I might be carrying. Legally, the case for allowing such bag searches is flimsy. Without probable cause (which in practice usually means someone will have to have seen you take something off the shelf of the shop and put it in your bag) the shop has no right to detain you or to look in your bag. However, they can ask to look in your bag. You then have the right to refuse. If you refuse the shop can then ask you to not come back to the shop again, but they have no way of actually compelling you to open your bag for them.

However, most people comply with the request. Part of this is the practice is ingrained, and part of this is the very stern sounding sign: It is a condition of entry...We reserve the right....blah blah blah. The sign is legally meaningless, but it does what it is intended to, which is intimidate people. (The sign is probably also illegal under a piece of Australian legislation called the Trade Practices Act, which essentially requires that signs in shops always tell the truth, but I doubt this has been tested in court). However, returning to Australia, and being annoyed by the bag search practice, and knowing the law, I decided a few years ago to test things. When I was asked by security guards if they could look in my bag, I would reply "No" and keep walking. What I discovered was quite interesting. There are two large companies that own a large portion of the retail sector in Australia. One is Woolworth corporation (which was once a subsidiary of the American retailer of the same name, but is now Australian owned and has been transformed into mostly an operator of supermarkets. The best UK comparison is with Tesco). The other is Coles Myer, which operates a huge number of different kinds of shops. Security guards working for Woolworth's had always been clearly told what their rights were and were not. When I called their bluff, they backed off and I simply walked away without having anyone search my bag. Coles Myer employees were less well briefed. They had a tendency to draw my attention to the sign. When I explained that the sign was legally meaningless, they had a tendency to look at me blankly. But large stores are not the real problem. The problem actually comes from smaller independent stores that see the example of large stores, do not understand the law themselves, and assume that they have more rights than they actually do. Upon refusing to let staff in independent stores look in my bags, I was on one occasion chased down the street as I walked away. In another case, someone attempted to grab my bag from me. In a third, most egregious incident, I was physically shoved in the chest as I attempted to walk away. In these last two cases I was physically assaulted, the law was certainly on my side, and at least in theory I could have pressed criminal charges against the guards who assaulted me. However, this is one of those situations where perception is everything. Bag searches are so ingrained as a practice that if I refuse to allow one, I am perceived as the bad guy (and I must have something to hide), and it is very difficult to shift that perception on the part of security guards, other shoppers, even police. I have never actually called the police in an incident like this, but I know other people who have, and the police are genuinely not sympathetic (which is why I have not called the police in such an incident). Bag searches are normal. If you don't allow them, you reveal that you are probably a thief, and therefore you get little sympathy from anyone else. A part of a fairly fundamental right, the right to privacy, has been given up simply through common practice. All I can say is it is nice to be back in London where this sort of seach does not happen, at least for the moment. The point is simply this. Once a violation of your civil liberties becomes ingrained and accepted, it is then very hard to reverse. And when it comes down to it, the perception of the law is more important than the actual law. If people agree to bag searches even though they are not legally required to, then after a while it becomes very hard to not have your bag searched. If the government introduces an ID card "to prevent benefit fraud", and it becomes common practice for an ID card to also be asked for at other times as well, then it ultimately doesn't matter whether the new uses of the card are not specified by the law. If a significant portion of the public accept these uses (which they will) then it will become extremely hard for the rest of us to not go along, because we are the ones who will be seen as unreasonable for not doing so.




Destroyer25

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23rd March 2008

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#2 11 years ago

That's fucked up. Does every store in Australia actually have security guards at the door?




jackripped

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2nd December 2009

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#3 11 years ago

Most big stores do.

Our actual right on bag searches. People just dont realise, fuk em, dont let em search....

cut n pasted from our rights page.aus.

Bag searches If a store clearly displays a sign before you enter asking you to display the contents of your shopping bag, you accept the conditions of entry into the store; but you do not have to agree to show the contents of your bag.

If however when asked, you say no: you can be asked to leave the proprietor can refuse to sell you any goods, or the police could be called if the proprietor believes you have committed an offence.




Guest

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#4 11 years ago

Are we talking like your grocery bags or your personal bag? Like a backpack, handbag or messenger bag? Here in the United States, some stores, mostly electronic stores will often ask to see your receipt and will quickly scan the contents of your shopping bag but no one would ever have the audacity to search your personal belongings unless they were near certain you stole something.




Destroyer25

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#5 11 years ago
Red Menace;5227794Are we talking like your grocery bags or your personal bag? Like a backpack, handbag or messenger bag? Here in the United States, some stores, mostly electronic stores will often ask to see your receipt and will quickly scan the contents of your shopping bag but no one would ever have the audacity to search your personal belongings unless they were near certain you stole something.

They look at your receipt and look at your purchases when leaving Costco but searching personal belongings is unheard of.




Emperor Benedictine

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#6 11 years ago

I think people's whole perception of what their rights are, and their attitudes towards those rights, are themselves deeply ingrained - more to do with habit than anything else. People will be quite protective of their rights if they sense a change in the lifestyle or conveniences they have come to expect (I think there would be a lot of anger here in the UK if supermarkets started instituting this kind of policy), but in other cases spare little thought to the issue, or simply take the path of least resistance.

It's important to have a clear idea of one's own rights, and a healthy sense of entitlement to those rights. If the people don't care then neither will the powers that be.




jackripped

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2nd December 2009

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#7 11 years ago

Its about personal bags, not the plastic shopping bags. If you take a BIG W bag into woolworths you expect them to check teh reciept before leaving, thats fair enough, but your personal bags is a no go. Also they have electronic seciurity on all items, they should keep there system up to date, no need to search at all, if you steal a buzzer goes off, the whole things a scam.




Mr. Pedantic

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#8 11 years ago

Well, in New Zealand stores usually have a similar notice, saying that if the staff believe you have committed a theft inside the store that they reserve the right to check all your bags, not just shopping. But I've never heard of routine grocery bag searches before, and in my trips to Australia we've never been asked to open our bags for searching.




jackripped

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#9 11 years ago

Go to Big W or Target or Coles or Woolies, or Myre, and many many small shops that copy there signs and dont understand there not law binding, and you will be asked to open your bags. You must have got lucky. Its become the norm to ask for bags to be opened.Retarded really.




Admiral Donutz Advanced Member

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9th December 2003

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#10 11 years ago

WHn I was in Australia for three months last year I did most of my shopping at Woolworths and Coles. Since I was a backpacker I shopped nearly every day or every other day. I haven't seen many of those signs or stickers (though I must say I didn't really look for any such a thing either). Sometimes my own bag, most of the time I re-used a plastic bag or obtained a new plastic bag at the cashout.

During that time I have never been asked to show the contents of my bags (plastic shopping bagor personal belongings) and neither have I seen any other person being asked to do so. haven't seen many security guards either. Once I didn't bought anything at all (they didn't had what I was looking for) so I walked past the counter, told the girl behind it "Sorry, I haven't bought anything" and she simply repliued "That's alright, have a nice day!" and I walked out. Oh and on various occasions I went shopping at one shop first and then went down the street to a competitor to buy some other items. I simply lifted my bag (clearly marked with the brand of the other shop) and nobody asked me to show the contents in it.

If they had asked me to do so... well if I walked in with products from an other store, I probably would have showed the girl/guy behind the counter since walking out with a plastic bag which can clearly be seen to have some items in it might look suspicious (potential theft). But I don't think I'd had shown them the contents of my personal items or shown the contents of any bag after passing the counter. In the latter case I probably have pointed at the counter I came from and told them "excuse me, I just paid for my stuff right there..." and walked off.

In NL and most countries I am aware of shops do not have the right to look into your bags unless they have reasonable doubt to suspect you of shoplifting, which pretty much means somebody saw you shoplifting or something that defintately looked like shoplifting. In such a case usually a manager will approach you and take yu to a back room (office) and confront you with their suspicions and then ask you to show the contents of your bag and/or call the police on accusations of shoplifting.

PS: I went from Sydney to Cairns and from Melbourne to Sydney incase you wonder where my travels brought me as this practise may be more or less common in certain parts of the country.

Edit: I googled around a bit and it might be the case that a supermarket can "force" you to show the contents of yur bag if they have a clear notification (sticker) on the door. And then we have such things as "No bags allowed in the store", "No (highschool)students allowed in" or "not more then 5 pupils in the store at any time". *googles around a bit more* Edit2: They may indeed enfore some "house rules", but it seems like they cannot force you to comply as they don't have the legal right to search you and so on. They can however either prevent you from leaving and call the police, which is authorized to search you when you are identified as a suspect (by the supermarket) and the supermarket may refuse to let you in thier shop in the future (blacklisted/banned).




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