THE HIGH TECH BOUNCER
Getting carded used to be a straightforward process. You handed over your ID, it was looked at and you were either served or not served based on the bartender’s discretion. But beyond minors trying to get into a bar, one of the big problems operators have long contended with is knowing who troublemakers are before they come in. These days, a growing number of bars are turning to new ID scanner technology in an effort to keep potential menaces out before they cause more problems by sharing information about them with other neighborhood taverns. Naturally, the trend has privacy advocates concerned about how the information will be stored and about potential uses by private companies. When entering an establishment using one of the systems, a customer, regardless of age, presents his or her ID to a member of the door staff, who runs it through a scanner that checks for validity and whether the person is of legal drinking age. The system also photographs the customer and the ID, and provides information about the customer’s history at the venue. Then a computer database shares that newly collected information with other area bars. While standalone ID scanners have been available for at least 1O years, the new systems allow multiple bars in a geographic area to alert each other about known troublemakers, says Michael Sengstaken, President of New York-based IDetect Inc., one of several companies offering the systems, which cost about $2OOO. He says bars and clubs in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Canada have begun using the networked systems, including Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville cafes in Florida. However, the systems come with very few promises of security or confidentiality, says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the national American Civil Liberties Union. He says it’s possible the data collected at bars and clubs could be resold to everyone from marketers to insurance companies who are tracking the drinking habits of policyholders. In Canada, the country’s privacy commissioner has established limits on who can collect the information, how long it can be stored and for what purposes it can be used. Calabrese says the US lacks a similar national policy, although some states restrict the private collection of driver’s license information. In an attempt to keep everyone safe, it seems that privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past.