Nightclubs and youth clubs - black lists and biometrics

Nightclubs and youth clubs are studying ways of recognising individuals who have been banned before they actually gain access and refusing them entry. We have examined various projects which involve the use of biometric recognition systems for the identification of delinquents whose names are recorded on blacklists. A particular point of concern from a data protection perspective concerns the planned exchange of data between clubs.

Nightclubs and youth clubs have a recurring problem with persons who consume too much alcohol, commit acts of violence or steal. It is difficult to impose a house ban on such persons because they are often not recognised before they enter the premises. The problem is compounded by the fact that guests who are thrown out of one place often move on to another club where they cause problems again. Not surprisingly, club owners are keen to find a solution that allows them to spot troublemakers at the door.

The projects that were submitted to us for examination presented the following features. Anyone who is banned from a club will have his personal data, photograph, as well as the reason for, and duration of, the ban stored in a central database (i.e. a blacklist). A further option would involve registering all club guests in the database (member clubs system), and persons who have been banned from entry will have their names specifically marked. Before entering a club, members will be asked to show their membership card, or a video camera will be used equipped with an automatic face recognition system. Banned individuals can thus be identified at the entrance and turned away. The systems outlined above would be run as an interconnected network. All clubs linked to the network would have access to all the data stored in the central database. This would make it possible to pick out individuals who have caused trouble in other clubs. Member clubs could also use the data in such a system for advertising purposes or for loyalty programmes, and exchange data among themselves.

On the basis of our examination we have come to the following conclusions. The systems that are being considered involve the processing and exchange of (highly sensitive) personal data. There must, therefore, be an overriding private interest, in addition to which the processing principles, in particular the principle of proportionality, must be adhered to. The processing of personal data for the purpose of applying house rules and in the interest of safety do not as such pose any problems, providing that there are clear guidelines on the introduction of individual names into the database and that the data are only used for the stated purpose.

The situation is more complex, however, when data are exchanged between interconnected clubs. Here, too, there must be an overriding private interest. This would be the case, for example, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has acted improperly in another club. An automatic query procedure involving an exchange of data between participating clubs does not allow to determine whether such an interest actually exists in a specific case. This means that the only names that can be stored in the database are those of individuals who are suspected of improper behaviour. The exchange of data would thus be justified in all cases, and the sharing of the data would be held to be proportionate. Visitors to a club who are involved in an argument with the barkeeper or club owner, and who are then banned from the premises, could not have their names entered into the database. However, this would render the data base incomplete for the individual club, and it may therefore defeat the purpose. Our recommendation is that there be no automatic data exchange, but data could be transferred on a case-by-case basis if there are grounds for doing so.

If the details of all club guests are recorded for advertising purposes or loyalty programmes, then there is clearly no safety issue involved, nor can the purpose be to uphold house rules. In such cases the interest is essentially economic, and this carries less weight than the protection of privacy. Participation in promotions or loyalty programmes must therefore remain voluntary. The explicit consent of the persons involved must be obtained if there is to be any exchange of data between clubs.

We have notified the parties concerned of our opinion and will carry out an in-depth inspection once the detailed plans have been submitted to us.