Monday, October 27, 2014

Bars in NYC seem to be scanning DL/passport bar codes as patrons enter; troubling questions about security, quarantine, surveillance, privacy

Going to a small dance bar in New York City Saturday night, I was surprised when the doorman actually scanned the barcode on my Virginia driver’s license (mandatory age verification) as I went in. 
I wondered if this was a new state or city requirement.  I can see how it could help provide security for the bar, leaving evidence for law enforcement if there were to be some kind of incident.  But it could backfire.  Suppose someone has come back from West Africa and then later is identified with Ebola, or that something like this happens in the future with some other pandemic (SARS, bird flu, etc).  That was a huge controversy in NYC this past weekend considering the case of (heterosexual) Dr. Craig Spencer.  The point is that the government could use the automated records (from the scans) to check every place the person could have visited.  The establishment could risk mandatory closure, possibly for an extended period, possibly putting it out of business.

One question that obviously comes up, too, is surveillance -- the NSA, Snowden stuff.  It wasn't too many decades ago that this practice would have created enormous privacy issues for people, when governments raided gay bars and (as in the early 1970s) the Mafia protected them.  Or when governments took down license plates in parking lots, especially looking for military members or even people with clearances.  The Internet age seemed to blow away all the old privacy concerns, except that some people, as I have noted, have become more concerned about being photographed by others in the past three or four years again. 
Nobody likes to talk about security, of course, even given these very dangerous times.  There have been very few incidents over the years, as in Atlanta and Seattle.  The worst in history happened in New Orleans in January 1973, when I was “coming out” and this was the first thing I heard about.
Back in the 1990s, when the world was not perceived as so hostile, the Tracks disco sometimes screened for weapons when people entered.  (It did have one minor incident that I recall someone at MCCDC telling me about.)  The Navy Yard area (in Washington) then was low income, a situation that persisted when the Velvet Nations replaced it. Around 2004-2005, sometimes panhandlers would “approach” to “protect” your car when parking.  Once, in late 2004, I drove past a holdup in progress about four blocks from the club.  I told the management when I entered and the manager immediately called DC police, who then conferred with me by phone a couple times, but I never testified.   

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