Theme Parks and Your Privacy
Walt Disney World
In early 1996, Disney began a new biometric system to identify users of annual and seasonal passes abandoning the use of a barcoded laminated photo ID pass. The new pass deceptively contained no visual evidence of identity through the inclusion of an invisible unique personal identifier in the form of a fingerprint map. The barcode was replaced by a magnetic strip that now contained the fingerprint map, the pass holder's name, and the expiration date of the pass.
On January 2, 2005, allcurrent Walt Disney World admission passes began using fingerprint scans as a means to track customers entering their theme parks. Disney reported that all individuals who are 10 years of age or older are asked to provide their fingerprints for scanning. 1 However, children younger than ten have also been participating in this customer identification program.
The process involves scans of the index and middle fingers and the application of a geometric formula that reportedly creates a unique identifier of the person's fingerprints that were scanned. 2 Guests are asked by park attendants to make the peace sign. Then they are asked by attendants to insert their index and middle fingers into fingerprint scanners.
Universal Orlando and SeaWorld are reported to be planning to use fingerprint scans for the purpose of guest identification. It is also reported that Paramount Theme Parks are currently using fingerprint scanning technology.
The personally identifiable information collected in the form of a digital scan of visitor's fingerprints is associated with a guest's pass. The fingerprint scan information is used to limit access to the theme park to only those who have purchased tickets or entered the park with a particular pass.
Unfortunately, many visitors to the theme parks are not aware of the new policy. They are not informed that their fingerprint information has been scanned and retained. Customers were not provided with information on how long the fingerprint information would be retained, nor whether the information collected would be used for other purposes other than the control of admission to the theme park.
A location near Syracuse, New York is the planned new home for a major Pyramid Companiesproject called DestiNY USA. The Pyramid Companies operates malls in the area 3 and is developing DestiNY USA to be a resort. The project is expected to attract 30 million visitors annually, and cost $1.3 billion to construct. 4
DestiNY USA is advertised as an 800-acre waterfront resort featuring the world's largest enclosed and integrated structure. 5 The entire development will use over 6 million square feet of retail space, 500 retailers, a major tourism and visitor center; 4,000 hotel rooms and several entertainment and sports venues including a 65-acre indoor park. 6 DestiNY USA will include a research park to study visitors in what the project has described as a "living laboratory." 7 The "living laboratory" will be designed for the project's "strategic partners" to study people and "their respective products" in the DestiNY USA experience 24-hours-a day, 7 days a week, living, playing, and consuming products and services within a research laboratory environment.
Surveillance, whether it is sponsored by a public or private entity is an invasion of privacy. The collection of biometric information provides a means of conducting surveillance. The collection of fingerprint information is associated with police arrest, employment with financial institutions, or controlling access to highly secure facilities. Broadening the practice to include visitors to theme park is a new and unnecessary use especially if it involves children. There are no federal laws restricting the collection of personally identifiable information, such as recording of electronic handwriting or personal signatures, fingerprints, eye scans, or DNA by businesses.
As new technologies emerge laws that government harassment, trespass, invasion of privacy and eavesdropping are not adapting quickly enough to ensure the privacy rights of individuals or their families. Power and authority that had once only been the domain of governments are now finding fertile areas of interest for the commercial sector. The answer is not to simply apply old standards to new technologies.
A fingerprint is a biometric, which if compromised may be extremely difficult for a person to reconcile. A photograph of a face and a physical signature are biometrics, which can be checked using the eyes and experience of the verifier. These biometrics have been in use routinely and efficiently throughout human history. The use of automation to authenticate people is new and is being tested on consumers without precautions regarding their privacy.
Knowing as much as possible whenever personally identifiable information is being collected from you or your family is your best defense. It is not in your privacy interest to fail to ask questions or challenge requests for personally identifiable information. It is important to ask questions and assert your right to protect you and your children's privacy.
Walt Disney World does provide a little advertised option for those who do not want to provide a fingerprint scan. You may elect to use a photo ID document to enter their theme parks.
Prior to visiting any theme park take the extra step of contacting them about conditions for entering their facility.
First this practice fails the proportionality test. Proportionality answers the question--is the amount and type of information being collected equal the level of security being sought? Collection of fingerprint information is required in security environments. Entering a nuclear power plant, a secure research facility, or government sensitive area would all pass the proportionality test with regards to the collection of fingerprint information. Theme parks fail the the portionality test regarding the collection of fingerprint information. Theme parks are not high security facilities that require extensive security measures. Theme Parks have other means at their disposal to archive the same objective--be sure that the person who initially uses a pass is the same person who uses the pass.
Second, this is a gross violation of privacy rights. The collection of personally identifiable information that is in excess and disproportionate to the purpose for which the information is collected is wrong. To collect personally identifiable information only because a company, government agency or private party wants to collect the information is not sufficient. The theme park's goal is to be sure that the passes are used by the user who was issued the pass. That does not make it necessary to collect fingerprint information.
Third, EPIC opposes the use of notice and consent as a means of bypassing good privacy practices. However, in this case knowledge is an important part of the privacy choices that families might make. Often schools, congregations, and activity groups plan trips to theme parks that do not involve the participation of parents. Theme park visitor's should have knowledge of the practice of collecting fingerprint information so they may act to protect their and their children's privacy.
Fourth, theme parks provide little if any transparency in their collection and use of fingerprint scanning. Any time personally identifiable information is collected it is critical to provide transparency so that consumers, the public and the media can assure themselves that what is reported is indeed what is taking place. Transparency can be achieved by the application of Fair Information Practices (FIPs). FIPs are achieved when the following questions are answered in the affirmative:
Are customers told in advance about the collection of fingerprint information?
Are customers told why the information is being collected?
Are customers told about alternatives to the fingerprint scans?
Are customers provided information on who to contact if they have questions or believe that a problem exists because they provided information to the theme park?
Is the fingerprint scan information secured by strong cryptographic methods?
Are customers told that the fingerprint information is also on the theme park pass?
Are passes collected, retained or stored by the theme park or others?
Who will have access to fingerprint scan information?
Will the fingerprint scan information be shared with others?
Is the theme park maintaining and managing the data?
Is the theme park using information that is gathered base on use of the pass?
Who owns the fingerprint information collected?
- Disney: The Happiest Privacy Breaches on Earth, Peter Greenberg Travel News, July 2, 2007
- Disney World scans fingerprint details of park visitors, Boston Globe, September 3, 2006
- Local News 6, Finger Scanning At Disney Parks Causes Concern, July 14, 2005
- Big Brother to Watch Over Island, by Mark Baard, Wired News, May 4, 2004
- EPIC's Page on Biometric Identifiers
- EPIC's Children RFID Page
- Family Educational Rights Privacy
- Children Online Privacy Page
1 Local News 6, Finger Scanning At Disney Parks Causes Concern, July 14, 2005
3 The Pyramid Companies, history web page, available at http://www.pyramidmg.com/aboutus/history.asp
4 Lewis, Steve, DestiNY USA: Pyramid's green design, June 1, 2002
6 DestiNY USA, Project Main Page, Press Releases available at http://www.destinyusa.com/mainSite.html
Share this page:
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a biweekly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.