Big Bouncer is watching you

Biometric smart-card scanners are keeping undesirable elements out of Dutch clubs.

Published March 2, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

To get into the Alcazar Pleasure Village, a nightclub in the Netherlands, you'll have to make it past more than just a velvet rope. A vigilant "cyber-bouncer" will scan your fingerprint and face, refusing to let you in if you're a known troublemaker or waving you through if your file comes up clean.

Alcazar and 14 other Dutch clubs are installing biometric smart-card scanners to ensure that whoever is working the door will know who's been naughty and who's been nice. The biometric ID technology was created by Keyware Technologies, which expects that the clubs will not only use the cards to identify patrons, but to store data such as the frequency with which patrons visit -- offering, in return, "disco dollars" or other frequent flyer-like promotions redeemable for drinks or a free coat check.

"A small number of individuals can wreak havoc on the atmosphere at a nightclub, destroying the fun that most attendees seek," says a Keyware press release. "By implementing Keyware's cutting-edge identification system, nightclub owners will be able to prevent the problems caused by unruly patrons and provide a safer and more enjoyable environment for all."

You have to bet some U.S. nightclubs wouldn't mind implementing a similar system, since it would ensure that they're never tricked by a fake ID.

The Dutch clubs apparently expect no push-back from patrons who will be fingerprinted and face-scanned before they get in. (Their personal data will be embedded in membership smart cards.) Europeans are culturally acclimated to biometric smart cards, says Keyware spokeswoman Siobhan Gallagher; in Spain, for instance, some people carry biometric smart cards that store their medical records. The data is stored on the card, rather than centrally, and biometrics offers strong protection from unwanted access to the data.

Still, even the most biometrically friendly may squawk if the 15 Dutch nightclubs go ahead with an option under consideration: banding together to create a common database of troublemakers. If you get drunk and obnoxious once in your life, will you forever be 86'd from clubs across the country? Could the list be acquired by the police? Could employers or angry spouses get into your club records and figure out how much time and money you spend shaking your booty?

The nightclubs are restricting access to that list to the club owner and the security administrator, and each is going to set their own policy about whom they block and how long they block them, according to Liz Marshall, Keyware's director of communications. "We're really talking about blocking the rowdiest folks -- the ones that are getting arrested for their behavior anyway." And it's just a list -- not a biometric profile -- that the clubs are keeping, points out Marshall.

Still, you have to hope that before any club implements a system that may spare clean-nosed dancers a rumble with the unruly, they'll invest in security that will protect personal data about the innocent and the damned alike.

By Lydia Lee

Lydia Lee is a San Francisco writer


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