People kicked out of New South Wales pubs for being too drunk could be tracked via facial recognition technology if new laws introduced to parliament last week are not changed, with the powerful gambling lobby refusing to rule out expanding the use of the controversial tool.
A week after ClubsNSW announced it would roll out facial recognition technology to pubs and clubs across the state as a harm minimisation tool that could “only be used to enforce self exclusion” by gamblers, it now concedes its use will be more widespread.
The revelation came after the NSW crime commission released a damning report on Wednesday which found billions of dollars in “dirty” money is being gambled in pubs and clubs in the state every year.
The report called for the introduction of a cashless gambling card to address what it said was a “$95bn-a-year information black hole” for authorities attempting to track the proceeds of crime.
But in a statement after the report’s release, the ClubsNSW chief executive, Josh Landis, cited the use of facial recognition technology along with a crime commission recommendation for an exclusion register to allow police to alert venues to “patrons with criminal links”, as making it “near impossible for a criminal to enter a club in the future”.
Those comments contradicted what ClubsNSW said when it announced the use of the technology only a week ago.
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At the time ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association said facial recognition technology would be used to “combat problem gambling”, saying that it could “only [ClubsNSW’s italics] be used to enforce self-exclusion in gaming areas”.
When Guardian Australia asked ClubsNSW about the discrepancy, the lobby group did not acknowledge the change in its position, but pointed to legislation introduced last week by the state’s gaming minister, Kevin Anderson, formalising the use of the technology.
The bill would allow the use of “technology” to “identify, and prevent” people from entering a club or pub if that person has been “excluded” from a venue.
But the definition of an exclusion would also extend to people banned from a venue under the state’s Liquor Act, which allows a pub or club to ban people for being “intoxicated, violent, quarrelsome or disorderly”. It also includes people who smoke in a non-smoking area.
Asked about the technology’s use in those circumstances, a ClubsNSW spokesperson pointed to Anderson’s speech in parliament when introducing the bill, which stated its provisions mean it could “only be used for gambling harm minimisation or to identify people suspected of committing a serious offence such as money laundering”.
While the bill states the use of the technology “must comply with guidelines issued by the secretary about the use of the technology”, Guardian Australia reported last week that those guidelines don’t yet exist.
ClubsNSW did not respond to multiple requests for comment asking if it intended to use the technology to enforce those broader types of exclusions, and experts say the uncertainty about its use is part of the problem.
“This is exactly what we have been concerned about,” Kate Bower, a Choice consumer data advocate, said.
“Without regulation the use of the technology is being determined by the business and it can be introduced for one reason and then rapidly changed,” she said.
“The issue of consent is a concern because most people entering these premises aren’t aware facial recognition is being used and for what purpose it is being used.”
NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the change in ClubsNSW position showed the “claims that they’re serious about stopping money laundering are totally disingenuous”.
“Clubs NSW are desperately attempting to appear as though they’ve solved the problems plaguing their industry without having to undergo genuine reform to clean it up,” she said.
The cashless gambling card was championed by former gaming minister Victor Dominello before he was removed from the portfolio by the premier after opposition to the proposal from the gambling lobby.
On Wednesday the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he was open to considering its use, but wanted to “work very closely with industry”.