By Julian Bajkowski
The Office of the Privacy Commission for New South Wales has confirmed that it was not consulted prior to the launch of a controversial identity document scanning proposal from Premier Barry O’Farrell that could put sensitive personal details into the hands of nightclub bouncers in the violent crime hotspot of Kings Cross.
The confirmation that privacy regulators were left out of discussions on the policy proposal launched this week comes as serious questions emerge about whether the proposed ID scanning scheme can operate without creating more problems many than it solves – or even whether it can be effective.
On Tuesday Mr O’Farrell launched the state government’s response to ongoing problems in the Kings Cross precinct in a blaze of publicity – just days after local government elections in NSW that resulted in outspoken independent, small-bar champion and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore being again re-elected.
While technical specifics of the ID scanning scheme remain elusive, Mr O’Farrell has vowed that “linked ID scanners will be introduced to licensed premises” in Kings Cross and that “this means if a person is ejected from one venue, they can be banned from all other licenced venues in the precinct that night.”
“In some cases, offenders will be barred for longer periods because we won’t tolerate their behaviour in the Cross,” the Premier said.
But crucial questions yet to be answered about the scheme are what kind of identity information can be collected, by whom and how it will be shared, stored and protected.
The collection of personal information by bouncers at pubs and nightclubs as a way to stop violence has previously drawn fire from the federal Privacy Commission after it emerged that some staff at venues were digging through scans of female patrons to get their names and addresses.
In 2010 then federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis issued a notification and advice to licenced venues over their obligations on the collection and handling of personal information.
The latest political tough talk on ID scanning and lack of detail has again put privacy issues to the fore.
“The first we he heard about it was the media articles,” Deputy Privacy Commissioner for NSW, Mr John McAteer, told Government News immediately following the Premier’s announcement this week.
“It is unclear to us as to what the scheme is, who would operate it and how it would be governed,” Mr McAteer said.
“The concerns we would have is that the information is kept securely and that is only used for the purposes that the government mandates through legislation.“
Mr McAteer questioned how the Kings Cross scheme may operate.
“Let’s say they [a patron or patrons] cause an incident where they damage somebody and property. They get ejected. Presumably they link that person to the data that was scanned when they came in. I don’t know how it works, do they stick their thumb back in?” Mr Mr McAteer said.
“How do they know which person from the long queue caused to come in, which person’s data is linked to the patron who causes the ruckus?”
Despite the questions surrounding the ID scanning scheme, Mr McAteer said that private premises could decide who they let in and who they did not.
“We would not have too many concerns with the idea of premises putting in a requirement for entry because that has always been the case. It’s private premises, you accept their conditions or you don’t enter,” he said.
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