A security clampdown at a London club provides a troubling glimpse of the extent of privatised monitoring brought about by government policy.
A Reg reader drew our attention to complaints that visitors to fetish club Torture Garden must now hand over personal details before they are allowed to enter. Our follow-up investigation gave disturbing new insights into the farming-out of ID checks and its implications; as Phil Booth of No2ID puts it, "Two of the biggest sources of data insecurity over the next few years will be government policy and bureaucratic abdication of responsibility."
Torture Garden regulars must provide details not because sado-masochists are believed to be more prone to violence than anyone else – in fact, research suggests that on the whole, they are often better behaved than the general public – but because Torture Garden events take place on the premises managed by SEOne Club.
Following a shooting incident (not during a TG event), police requested a licensing condition that in future, "all persons entering the premises must supply verifiable identification details that are passed through a digital scanning and recording system such as Club Scan, Idvista or similar computerised system". They duly installed Clubscan – software and equipment developed by IDScan - and now all club-goers must submit one of a number of approved pieces of ID at the door before they are allowed to enter.
IDScan promotes its system on various grounds: it helps organisations comply with legislation, particularly that relating to licensing and age restrictions; it is a useful marketing tool; it assists in maintaining exclusion lists; data can be shared amongst groups of clubs to create area exclusions; and so on.
Its core function is its ability to read 223 different IDs and 162 different passports: it is capable of storing data including, as far as we can tell, name, address, photo and passport number. It is password-protected, and we have had no complaints about its inherent security.
In the case of the SEOne set-up, a spokesman told us that only senior management can access it: that information on the system is password-protected, and the equipment is removed from the front door when the club is shut and locked in a secure place.
A spokesman added that data is retained on the system for three years, in order to comply with the Data Protection Act. IDVista make similar claims for their equipment. According to its site, it "verifies the age and validity of your customers whilst building a unique data base enabling you to monitor, manage and market to your clientele".
So where’s the problem? According to Phil Booth, this is all about coercion through the licensing system and exploitation of a culture created by the Home Office. In its drive toward ever greater security for young people. the government have passed ever more punitive legislation aimed at separating young people from dangerous items. Age limits for cigarettes and knives have both been raised. Meanwhile, the penalties for retailers under legislation such as the Licensing Act 2003 have become ever more draconian.
Speaking in respect of another of IDScan’s products, Agescan, MD Tamlyn Thompson said: "Any shops or licensed premises failing an underage test twice within three months will lose the right to sell the item in question. AgeSafe is designed to both stop teenagers buying these products and also protect retailers’ livelihoods."