Bio-Facial System Set to Debut at Long Island Nightclubs

Despite privacy concerns, bars to use BioBouncer system to identify and bar unruly patrons

"It's a natural deterrent," said Vitale, who convinced the owner of nearby club Montego Bay to also use the device. "If someone is a potential problem, you don't want them in."

What happens if a customer, whose image comes up on BioBouncer as a troublemaker, says that's not him or her?

They can plead their case with club management, Vitale said. In addition, Dussich said that his company will monitor use of the device through a manned 24/7 technical center.

Attorney John McEntee, whose Uniondale firm represents companies producing biometric software, said the photograph sharing among clubs doesn't appear unlawful.

"There's nothing private about your face in public," he said. However, McEntee said, problems could arise if the device is being used to exclude certain people based on race or appearance.

The reason behind it

Last year, Nassau County police responded to 131 calls for various reasons at the four Island Park clubs signed up with BioBouncer. Nine arrests resulted in charges, including assault and disorderly conduct, police records show.

Vitale said he hopes the device will keep out "bad guys" who ignite brawls or break other laws similar to a violent struggle that recently occurred at a Garden City nightclub. In March, five men were arrested on riot charges after injuring security guards at Club Posh on Seventh Street.

Nicholas Carentz, 26, of Oceanside, who has hung out at the Island Park clubs, said BioBouncer may help keep out troublemakers, but said he fears patrons who quarrel with someone who "disrespects your girl" could also be targeted.

"It's good, but not good," said Carentz.

Enjoying happy hour at the Kew Club in Queens, Lukasz Bialecki, 28, of Maspeth, said well-behaved customers have no worries.

"It shouldn't bother you if you don't start trouble," he said.

BioBouncer's initial cost is $3,000 to $5,000, then there's a $600 monthly fee. Less costly methods of policing clubs - like well-kept blacklists and bouncers with good memories - also work.

"I don't see how this hi-tech gizmo will help," said Robert Bookman, a lobbyist for the New York Nightlife Association.

Experts say biometrics isn't a perfect science. In Tampa, Fla., police no longer use face scanners because of errors in matching photographs to people, officials said.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit working on free speech and privacy issues, said problems with face-scanning technology far outweigh any benefits.

"The accuracy leaves quite a bit to be desired," said Lee Tien, the group's attorney.

Generally, devices like BioBouncer make a false match once in 250 attempts, said Yevgeny Levitov, president and co-founder of FaceKey Corp. of San Antonio, Texas, which has studied biometrics for 20 years.

He added that errors are reduced by using more than one comparative image and improving lighting - steps Dussich said he has already taken.

In addition to having its own light source, BioBouncer compares multiple images to increase accuracy. For example, if 17 images match 20 stored images of a rowdy customer then "that's a pretty good match," Dussich said.

"[BioBouncer] needs to be used with the best ethics and practices," he added. "It is the utmost importance to us that it doesn't interfere with the patrons having a good time ... and to make sure their privacy is being protected."

What it looks for

Facial recognition systems identify people by distinctive characteristics, called nodal points, unique to almost every person's face. Here are some examples of nodal points: Distance between the eyes; Width of nose; Depth of eye sockets; Cheekbone, chin and jawline patterns.

At a Glance:

$3,000- $5000: Initial cost of BioBouncer installation; $600 monthly maintenance fee not included

20: Number of facial images BioBouncer scan every several seconds

1 in 250: Average number of false matches made by facial recognition software programs such as BioBouncer

[Newsday (Melville, NY) (KRT) -- 05/22/06]