We’ve all been there—maybe you’ve had a little too much to drink and a bouncer is questioning your balance as they scan your ID. Unfortunately, at least in some cities in the U.S., a simple interaction with a bouncer gone wrong can mean you’re booted from bars all over town; as first reported by OneZero, at least one ID-scanner company is taking private data of bargoers without their knowledge or consent and creating a network of banned customers, all made possible by a single swipe.
PatronScan, the company in question, operates in a number of bars across the country, by sending data from those familiar handheld ID-scanning devices. (They also have larger, scanning kiosks.) The technology is intended to verify authentic IDs from fake ones, but also retains basic demographic data on each of its users, including age, gender, and date of birth.
PatronScan also collects any data on bars you’ve been to that night (presumably, just those that use their technology). While it’s unclear just how many cities PatronScan operates in, they retain this information for 90 days by default and 30 days in California, where legislation has changed to reflect privacy concerns.
On the surface, collection of your personal information—and what you’ve been up to on a given night—already sounds awfully invasive. (PatronScan claims they do not retain addresses, however.) And it’s also unclear how else this data is being used; as OneZero writes, it can be made available to law enforcement upon request, but who’s to stop them from selling it to third parties?
But it only gets worse.
If you’ve ever been banned by a bar that uses PatronScan, you are also banned from every other venue that uses their same technology; this can be done at the judgment of a single bouncer or bartender who can report you on the device for reasons like fighting, public intoxication, drug trafficking, and the catch-all category—“other.” It’s a noble cause in theory; you can ban the worst, loudest, or otherwise drunkest people you might encounter, but consider how this could be used to ban entire groups of people from bars with racist-door policies.
“Banning criteria are nebulous and determined on an individual basis by thousands of different bar employees with a variety of standards and motivations,” OneZero’s Susie Cagle writes. “There’s essentially nothing to stop a bad-actor business from using PatronScan for discriminatory purposes under the guise of security.”
Across its venues, PatronScan claims to have 40,000 banned users. And in Sacramento, California, which recently required some businesses to use technology like PatronScan to verify ID’s, the average ban handed out to customers spans 19 years, a number provided by PatronScan’s own “Public Safety Report” (This is viewable over on OneZero, too).