This ID Scanner Company is Collecting Sensitive Data on Millions of Bargoers
PatronScan says it sells security. Privacy advocates worry it’s selling mass surveillance.
We’ve all seen it, and some of us have lived it: A bar patron mouths off to a bouncer, tags a wall, gets in a fight, or is just too drunk and disorderly. They’re not just kicked out for the night, but “eighty-sixed” — permanently banned from the establishment.
Now imagine if a bar owner could flag that ejected patron digitally, documenting their transgression for other bar owners to see and placing them on a nightlife equivalent of a no fly list that stretches across city, state, and even international borders.
PatronScan allows bars to do just that. The PatronScan kiosk, placed at the entrance of a bar or nightlife establishment, can verify whether an ID is real or fake, and collect and track basic customer demographic data. For bars, accurate ID scanners are valuable tools that help weed out underage drinkers, protecting the establishments’ liquor licenses from fines and scrupulous state alcohol boards. But PatronScan’s main selling point is security.
The system allows a business to maintain a record of bad customer behavior and flag those individuals, alerting every other bar that uses PatronScan. What constitutes “bad behavior” is at a bar manager’s discretion, and ranges from “sexual assault” to “violence” to “public drunkenness” and “other.” When a bargoer visits another PatronScan bar and swipes their ID, their previously flagged transgressions will pop up on the kiosk screen. Unless patrons successfully appeal their status to PatronScan or the bar directly, their status can follow them for anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months, to much, much longer. According to a PatronScan “Public Safety Report” from May 2018, the average length of bans handed out to customers in Sacramento, California was 19 years. (The company’s “Public Safety Report” is embedded in full below.)
PatronScan claims to have a networked list of more than 40,000 banned customers.
The same report indicates that PatronScan collected and retained information on over 10,000 patrons in…