3 min

Invasion of privacy

Bar patrons oppose ID machine

Credit: Robin Perelle

A collective howl is rising from the PumpJack Pub over a potential addition that patrons say is an invasion of privacy.

The popular Davie St pub recently test-ran an ID recording device that it, along with Vancouver’s other 34 BarWatch members (including Numbers), is thinking of implementing.

The overwhelming response among patrons: don’t even think about it. Even the manager has concerns.

“It scares the beejeesus out of me,” Brian Young says openly.

If the proposed machine gets the nod, all PumpJack patrons will have to present two pieces of ID to get into the pub, then stand by as their ID gets swiped through the machine, their photo gets taken, and their profile comes up on screen.

That profile would then be recorded and stored on a database maintained by the machine’s manufacturer, TreoScope. And it could be accessed again later if, say, a fight breaks out and the perpetrator needs to be identified. Bar owners could then turn the information over to police and share it amongst themselves to red-flag violent people. Information stored on the database could also be subpoenaed in court.

Though Young is quick to point out the possible safety benefits of having such information on hand (say, if someone starts spiking drinks again), he is leery about invading his patrons’ privacy.

“There’s a history here in the gay community” of police keeping lists of people who frequent gay bars, he says. Sometimes those lists would be released to the media and people’s lives would be ruined. This new machine would be creating just such a list, he notes.

And what about the company that maintains the database? he asks. How secure is TreoScope? What if it goes bankrupt and its assets get sold off?

“This is a huge privacy issue. We’re not jumping on board or anything,” he hastens to add.

The PumpJack is only considering the ID recorder, Young explains. He’s hoping his patrons will take an interest in the machine and start a debate.

Personally, he says, he’s not ready to support the machine’s implementation. He still has too many questions about its usage.

Most of his patrons, however, say they’ve heard enough. And they don’t want it.

“It does make me nervous,” says PumpJack regular Blake Lazenby. “I just like a little privacy in my life.”

Though he, too, can see the possible safety benefits, Lazenby says they’re not worth the invasion of privacy.

Derek Bell agrees. “I’m not in favour of any more intrusions into my life by any organization,” he says.

“It’s none of anybody’s business which drinking establishment I’m drinking in,” adds John, who declined to give his last name.

“I don’t like it,” says Jim Frieson. “What happens if you haven’t come out of the closet yet?” This machine will probably keep closeted people away from their friends at the bar, he speculates. “It could really take away their freedom.”

It could really take away everyone’s freedom, most PumpJack regulars agree. Of all the patrons Xtra West interviewed, not one supported the implementation of the ID recorder. One person even emailed the paper to ask what would happen if he went to a straight bar and his ID came up as a gay bar patron.

But bartender Reive Doig thinks the machine’s pros outweigh its cons. “We’ve got a chance to know who the problem people are,” he says. “It sure would have made a difference when we had someone drugging drinks,” he adds, referring to Sean Anthony Cole who pleaded guilty in May to drugging and robbing five men, including several PumpJack patrons.

Young says the PumpJack has a responsibility to examine any strategy that could enhance its patrons’ safety. “If it’s going to make my patrons safe and I don’t have to worry about some creep coming in and slipping something into a drink, then I think it’s a damn good thing,” he says.

“But at what price?” he asks.

Right now, BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Board requires all primary drinking establishments to check two pieces of ID for all patrons who look like they may be 25 years or younger. Check; not record.

Numbers owner Phil Moon says he probably will introduce the machine, though he’s waiting to see what other BarWatch members do before making a final decision. Moon says some people may have privacy concerns, but he thinks the device could save lives. If there’s a problem, he’ll have it on tape, he says.

Young says he’ll study the question very carefully before recommending anything.