Pub fingerprint scanners raise privacy concerns

Fingerprint scanning technology is coming to a pub near you – but does it breach your privacy?

The Australian Privacy Commission has voiced concerns that the growing use of such technology in pubs and clubs across Australia could indeed violate customer privacy laws and pose major security risks.

Reportedly up to fourteen venues across the country, including Coogee Bay Hotel in Sydney, have recently installed biometric technology systems in a bid to curb alcohol-related violence.

The new technology records a photograph, fingerprint and ID as the patron enters the venue – refusing these identification measures will see the patron declined entry.

The venues claim such information is only stored, so if a patron is banned or ejected, security will be alerted when they try to re-enter the premises.

Though, what the customer is not always advised of – the information is also used to provide establishments with a demographic breakdown of their clientele.

There are now calls for a national set of guidelines to govern the use of information obtained by licensed premises and the technology.

Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis believes the information needs to be destroyed as soon as possible and a transparent collection process to be a priority, reported.

"Clubs also need to keep their databases secure, keep their information accurate and up to date, and allow people to see the information they hold about them," Ms Curtis said.

"If the information was collected for security reasons, for example, presumably if no incident occurred on the date of collection, the information would not need to be kept for much longer afterwards.

"If clubs fail in any of these areas they run the risk of breaching their customers’ privacy and of having a privacy complaint lodged against them."

This is not the only controversial security technology to pop up in licensed venues across the country, with identification storing machines in use at 200 pubs and clubs.

Creating a database of individuals could be in breach of privacy laws, warned Ms Curtis, as was sharing information between venues.

She also stresses that patrons should be made aware of what happens with their personal data and the reasons it is being recorded.

In an interview with, Mario Madaffari, the director of NightKey, the company responsible for the fingerprint scanning technology, advises each fingerprint scan is actually converted into a pin number, meaning the print itself is not retained.

Though he does admit information is used for other reasons beyond security.

Mr Madaffari said data collected by his company's machines was used to give venues an overview of their patrons, with regular reports sent back to venues outlining the demographic of their clientele according to age, gender and suburb.

He stressed the data had been de-identified before being passed back.

"Definitely no names and addresses or anything like that," Mr Madaffari said.

"It is never sent to a third party. We do not sell any of our data."

He likened the server, where the data is stored, to a bank's which is only accessed if needed by police but he claims even they need to go through a thorough audit process before obtaining any information.

NSW Police backed the new ID systems as long as they "comply with all relevant legislation governing their use."

The Privacy Commission advised it would be watching the situation and urged organisations to consider other forms of identifying their patrons.

Pub fingerprint scanners raise privacy concerns

Pub fingerprint scanners raise privacy concerns