Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Facial recognition for banning bar "troublemakers"

Bars seem to be on the cutting edge of identification technology. Regular readers of the blog probably have noted references to bars scanning identification documents of visitors and some using external databases to keep track of banned patrons. (see Swiping driver's licenses - instant marketing lists?, Calgary student challenges nightclub over scanning ID, Alberta bar to continue scanning IDs despite Commissioner's advice not to, New technologies for scanning IDs.) Now, Wired News is reporting on facial recognition software that takes a picture of visitors to bars and matches them against a database of banned patrons. The technology was born in Toronto, Canada:

Wired News: BioBouncer Might Make Bars Safer

Privacy watchdog groups, however, don't like the sound of it, and it's not clear club patrons will dig it, either. Many people are already accustomed, or oblivious, to cameras recording their every move at ATMs and 7-11s. But in a bar's let-loose environment the sign Dussich wants posted at the entrance announcing that BioBouncer is recording their faces might send customers running.

Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said people may find BioBouncer insulting or invasive. Facial recognition software is notoriously inaccurate, he said, and he is concerned that data-sharing could be used to blackball innocent partiers.

"Think about it: Someone doesn't like you, your photo gets in there, you walk in someplace and they're telling you, 'You're a troublemaker, you got bounced from that other bar.'"

BioBouncer was born when a Toronto club owner asked if Dussich could help curb a burgeoning crime problem. Dussich may be on to something, as crime is plaguing the club scene nationwide, said Robert Smith, a police officer and nightclub security expert, who runs the Hospitality and Security Alliance.

Update: Bruce Schneier has some things to say about this:

Schneier on Security: Face Recognition Comes to Bars:

And the data will be owned by the bars that collect it. They can choose to erase it, or they can choose to sell it to data aggregators like Acxiom.

It's rarely the initial application that's the problem. It's the follow-on applications. It's the function creep. Before you know it, everyone will know that they are identified the moment they walk into a commercial building. We will all lose privacy, and liberty, and freedom as a result.

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