Column: Wilton Manors 1984

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1984,” a George Orwell novel amazingly first published way back in 1949, is a bleak dystopian look at a society governed by propaganda, surveillance and censorship. 

George might have had the year incorrect when he created the book’s title, because 2020 is looking much more like the world he foretold, a place of perpetual wars, government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda. 

A recent incident at Hunters Nightclub here in Wilton Manors one Friday evening made me realize just how willing we are to nonchalantly hand over our privacy. 

Hunters’ staff requires patrons to have their drivers licenses scanned before being allowed to enter the club. Not such a big deal in a world where everything is being monitored by the internet and our cell phones. 

Nonetheless, for whatever reason, this act caused me to pull back and ask why?  What is Hunters doing with this collected data? Is the data secure? Is it legal for a business to scan your license? Is it being sold to third parties? The questions are many, and assurances by Hunters staff did not still my unease. 

If Hunters’ only interest was to check patrons’ age or the validity of their identification, then why not simply look at a person’s license for verification? Why the need to scan the bar code on the back of the license if not to collect data that is to be used in some unknown manner? Why is it OK to stand outside at Hunters and order a drink without such scanning, but if I want to drink inside, my age and ID becomes an issue? Furthermore, the average age at Hunters’ Friday Happy Hour is, to be kind, probably 40-ish, far above the legal drinking age of 21.  So, it is unlikely that underage drinking is a big problem for them. 

The days of getting giddy over a doorman proofing me for being under 21 is long gone. If Hunters’ bouncers cannot see that this bald head, gray-bearded older gentleman is way over the drinking age of 21, they better get a new job and some stronger eyeglasses. 

Many younger folk who have comfortably sacrificed their identity through posting one’s entire life on social media might not see the big issue here. Having your license scanned is just another everyday reality. However, many have not had the experience where such information is used against them, to label them subversive, to bar them from entry, or to alert certain parties of their whereabouts. Many older folk have lived through times when such data was or could have been used to ruin their lives, effect their employment, expose their lifestyle choices, and exploit and damage their reputation. 

Hopefully, most people will never have to experience such reality, but I fear that may just be too much to ask for. 

Healthcare organizations wanting to identify those who might be high risk due to social behaviors, law enforcement seeking information, marketers, companies looking to collect data on specific groups of individuals, the list is endless on the usage of such data that Hunters collects.  Dont try malingering your boss the next morning due to a hangover from partying all night, because the employer of tomorrow will be able to access available data and expose such foolery.  

Perhaps we will just have to get accustomed to such realities due to the digital transformation of our society.  Governments and corporations have acquired frightening abilities to amass and search endless digital records from cell phone tracking, internet data collection, and many other surveillance technologies. Protections governing the use of such data are greatly lacking and should be a major concern for each and every one of us. 

I am not sure if any other establishments along The Drive are scanning patrons’ licenses, but I do know that after I decided not to be scanned at Hunters, I walked down the Drive to other establishments that welcomed me and delivered wonderful service without my having to hand over personal data along with my money. 

If you must get into Hunters on a Friday night, you can always buy a cocktail at the outside bar and stand close to the exit door. Wait patiently while the doorman is busy scanning personal data from the queue of patrons lined up at the entrance, until someone exits the establishment, which gives you the perfect opportunity to make a quick dash inside before the doorman has a chance to react. Safely inside with your personal data intact, you are free to enjoy yourself with friends and others without leaving your digital footprint at the door. 

Enjoy your freedom while you can, because Big Brother is unfortunately waiting for you just around the corner. Protecting ones privacy, taking a stand when you feel something is not right and looking to keep a free and open society where all can flourish will always make life just better here.

 

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