The line is about 20 people deep outside Lowbrau, a popular night spot in Midtown’s Lavender Heights neighborhood. Customers are pulling out their IDs — which is common — but they’re also preparing to have their photos taken.
That’s because security guards at the bar are using PatronScan: It’s a program that collects the information from your ID, snaps your picture and tells bar and club owners whether you’ve been a problem in the past at other venues or businesses.
It also lets them know if you’ve been banned from clubs in town, or even around the globe.
“It’s just kind of like something that we just have to do now to go to the clubs,” said Deja Caesar, who is about to enter the bar. “It just doesn’t really bother me much.”
But some are concerned, including Kevin Baker, the Legislative Director for the ACLU of Northern California.
“A lot of people find it troubling that they are being forced to submit to this kind of scrutiny and tracking just to have a night out,” he said.
While supporters of the technology argue you can simply choose another bar, Baker says places that don’t scan your ID are dwindling. He’s also concerned with how the service may evolve.
“What we have on the horizon now is facial recognition technology that is sort of like ID scanning on steroids,” he said, “because it can be done without your knowledge and also has serious problems of inaccuracy.”
Tina Lee-Vogt manages the city of Sacramento’s entertainment permit program. She says that, out of the city's 85 approved venues, fewer than half use PatronScan and most are in the downtown area.
"For us, scanners are part of our safety tools,” she said. “So, similar to how we have requirements for security guards or we have requirements for their operating hours, scanners are just one of about 20 conditions that we place on our business."
Coin-Op Game Room also uses PatronScan. Manager Eric Martinez says he does get warnings from the system every couple of weeks regarding customers who are banned. Customers can get banned for up to a year, and he occasionally has to flag guests at the bar and arcade.
“I'd say maybe once a week is about an average, but usually not for anything bad,” Martinez said. “It's just for people over intoxicated, we'll set 'em banned for a week. I mean, somebody puking in the hallway. I mean, everybody has their fun.”
The CEO of the parent company behind PatronScan, Alberio Bathory-Frota, says he understands concerns over privacy.
"We never sell or give away our data, period,” he said.
An exception would be law enforcement: The Sacramento Police Department uses information from PatronScan to help solve crimes, and says it recently did so in the case of a robbery earlier this year.
"Unless a patron is flagged for bad behavior, in California, that patron's information will be permanently deleted within 30 days of visiting that establishment."
But if you are a bad actor, your information is shared with bars and clubs throughout the world using PatronScan — which could ruin your plans for a night out.
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