Patronscan’s ID-checking tech in bars: Good or bad?

Luke Revell Patronscan
Butter Factory owner Luke Revell scans ID

An increasing number of bar owners are hoping the ID-checking technology Patronscan will improve patrons’ behaviour, with one publican implementing the technology after being inches from a fatal brawl. 

Whangarei bar owner Luke Revell was driving home from work on Saturday June 12 when, minutes before midnight, he passed 29 Bank Street, downtown, where a brawl was erupting. Around a dozen people were fighting in the 30-metre space between two of the only venues open in the sleepy city, Revell told theBit

Revell drove past to get petrol and by the time he returned through the same location minutes later, a 23-year-old man had been killed. A 17-year-old and a 20-year-old were swiftly arrested and charged. 

Revell announced on Facebook the next day that his venue, The Butter Factory, would begin implementing the ID-checking system, Patronscan. The idea would be that having a register of people at the premises would prevent criminal behaviour and increase accountability for people committing thefts, assaults, vandalism and other crimes. Revell suggested other bars may follow suit and share information about troublesome patrons.   

The Butter Factory owner Luke Revell demonstrates Patronscan for theBit in June

Revell told theBit being assaulted while at work has been a motivation in installing Patronscan, saying he was not long ago kicked and punched in the head – even while accompanied by security guards – as he tried to break up a mob assaulting a person outside The Butter Factory.

“If we had something like Patronscan I could go through photos and ban those people from our bar. But I didn’t have names, then.”

Revell and his security team operated Patronscan on June 19, the first night Revell deemed ‘high risk.’ The result: two apprehensions, including one for stealing drinks.

“It was easy to identify who it was – we just went back through the photos of people coming in on the night, came up with the person’s details and issued a trespass warning on the system. So next time they try to come in they’ll be notified they are barred.”

The Butter Factory’s announcement follows a slow-but-steady adoption of Patronscan in bars across the country over the last four years. 

The portable scanning machine, which is the size of a cash register, appears to be dominating the ID-scanning market. Patronscan stores scans of passports, 18+ cards and driver licences. Data is held for 30 days, even after deletion, because in Patronscan’s words “This period allows crime victims sufficient time to report a crime. It is common for victims to report crimes several days to weeks later.”

Venues mostly maintain their own roster of undesirable customers, but may add a ‘network flag’ to share a warning about an individual with other venues. The maximum flag period is five years. 

Revell told theBit he often sets the system to delete data after 48 hours. 

Patronscan works by collecting names, dates of birth, a person’s photo, gender and postal code and can match facial photographs between IDs. Patronscan isn’t typically linked to CCTV, though one rival system called IDSScan.net offers this additional functionality. 

Patronscan says personal data collected from ID scanning is SSL-encrypted, is not provided to third parties outside of law enforcement and venue staff, and says patrons may request their data and can dispute being flagged (which takes over 10 days to process). 

Some of the earliest adopters of Patronscan have been Calendar Girls, Lush and Fat Eddy’s in Christchurch, and Wellington venues Dakota and The Establishment. Revell was initially persuaded to install Patronscan after visiting The Thirsty Whale in Napier in February and being taught the bar had upwards of 700 people flagged on its system. 

Revell believes his news stories have inspired at least seven other venues to install Patronscan in the week since the Whangarei murder. 

As far back as 2012, ID Scanners Ltd was selling similar technology to NZ bars which a Stuff news story said can calculate age, detect ID sharing and calculate the male-to-female ratio in the bar, and their average ages. 

One organisation with an interest in crime-related data is NZ Police. Revell told theBit that Whangarei Police who made a routine visit to the Butter Factory on June 19 “had a play” with the system. 

“I just stood there and showed them how it works. We could potentially give police backdoor access.”

A February 2020 news report suggested a person banned from a venue in Australia could be flagged by an NZ venue. Revell agreed it would be possible if, hypothetically, Australian bar owners formed an information-sharing group with NZ hospitality operators.

“I don’t think anybody would bother but it could be done.”

Digital tech expert Dr Andrew Chen told RNZ in June 2021 that in his opinion, a privacy waiver given to people whose ID is collected at the entrance of any venue is insufficient – and people being affected by alcohol could make them unable to consent to any privacy waiver. Chen added it may take a misuse of data and a resultant court case to clarify New Zealanders’ rights when it comes to being flagged. 

Commentators on Reddit have pointed out that NZ petrol stations routinely collect and store customer identification information captured on camera, and that NZ’s largest supermarket operator Foodstuffs NZ uses facial recognition software. 

One commentator cautioned that Patronscan was “an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” in terms of increasingly dangerous public venues. Another commenter dismissed worries about the management of identity data entirely, saying “We tried this in Hamilton oh… five years ago maybe? Maybe six. Wasn’t worth the hassle, the system slowed the line into the club enough that people weren’t waiting that long, and other times people straight up wouldn’t tell us any personal info so would go to another club. We scrapped the trial after one weekend.”

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