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I left my heart, ID and video images in San Francisco

For a city known for its liberal stances on, well, just about everything, San Francisco is considering some rules for its clubbing constituency that are more in line with anti-terrorist measures than a carefree night out on the town.

In this new world order, should the city's Entertainment Commission get any traction on this proposal, getting your dance on would mean being subjected to a metal detector, ID scanning and surveillance cameras that will keep images in a database for at least 15 days. Those opposed to the proposal called it "troubling, authoritarian and poorly thought-out."

Ars Technica reports that the proposal, which was presented by the San Francisco Police Department to address an increase in violent incidents in close proximity to the city's clubs, has already met with disapproval from civil liberties groups such as PrivacyActivism, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which compares the proposed rules to a "police state"), the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, IP Justice, Beat the Chip, Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Patient Privacy Rights, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. These groups teamed up to send a letter to the Entertainment Commission opposing the rules, particularly two they feel, if passed, "would pose a grave threat to the constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of association and to the privacy rights of all patrons who wish to attend events at venues with Place of Entertainment permits in San Francisco."

Those venues that can hold 100 people or more would be the ones beholden to nine rules, which include the ones that offend these groups the most, numbers 3 and 4 (the entire list can be found here):

  •  2. All individuals entering the premises shall be scanned by a metal detector. 
  •  3. All occupants of the premises shall be ID Scanned (including patrons, promoters and performers, etc.).  ID scanning data shall be maintained on a data storage system for no less than 15 days and shall be made available to local law enforcement upon request.  
  •  4.  High-visibility cameras shall be located at each entrance and exit point of the premises.  Said cameras shall maintain a recorded data base for no less than fifteen (15 days) and made available to local law enforcement upon request. 

Having been a veteran of clubs back in the day, including those in San Francisco, I can tell you that there may be a lot going on inside that's illegal, but even activity that isn't illegal is certainly not really the kind of thing you want out in the public, and certainly not on file for the police to access anytime. Some of us just like to cut loose on the dancefloor, and we don't need to make the YouTube rounds, a la Julian Assange

In the letter to the commission, the groups state why they're so riled up.

Scanning the ID’s of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would result in a deeply chilling effect on speech, since participants could not attend without their attendance being noted, stored, and made available on request to government authorities. This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state.

These proposed regulations raise several problems: they would violate the rights of patrons, enable systemic abuses by law enforcement authorities, allow for troubling secondary uses of the data, and invite theft and fraud by identity thieves and hackers.

At the core of their concerns: abusing individual privacy. 

Even if the violation of patrons’ rights freedom of association and due process were not reason enough to discard these proposed rules, there are still serious privacy concerns stemming from the creation of completely unregulated databases full of personal data.

Identification documents contain a vast amount of personal information about the individual, including an address where the individual may be found.  Mandating the creation of databases filled with the identifying information of every person attending a venue with a Place of Entertainment permit in San Francisco without mandating any kind of protection, checks and balances, or auditing for such sensitive data creates thousands of new opportunities for abuse and data breach. These databases would be tempting targets for ID thieves and stalkers, not to mention dishonest insiders.  

A public hearing on this was scheduled to take place last night, but at the last minute, "Entertainment Commission President John Newlin said Mayor Ed Lee wanted 'further analysis and study' before a decision and had requested the postponement," reported The San Francisco Examiner.

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