Police blame bar owners for not knowing law after getting caught pushing them into surveillance program
Source: Mikael Thalen
Police in Multnomah County quietly suspended a new data mining program this week after a local newspaper began questioning its legality.
For the last several weeks, police have issued ID-scanning devices to clubs and bars all throughout Portland’s Old Town neighborhood. The scanners not only captured customers’ personal data, including names and photos, but uploaded all the information to a police database.
After receiving a three-year alcohol abuse reduction grant in 2011, Multnomah County awarded the nonprofit “Lines for Life” $60,000 to obtain the police-run scanners for multiple drinking establishments.
Despite Oregon law placing strict limits on storing and sharing information from ID scanners specifically, police were persistent in getting local bars to comply with the program.
“We tried to say ‘no’ at the very beginning, and police strongly encouraged that we should do it,” club manager Mike Reed told the Willamette Week. “We don’t want to track people’s every move. We considered that a possible issue.”
According to Reed, police not only encouraged the program, but continually reassured club owners that the practice was completely legal.
“To our understanding, we’re doing everything within the law,” Reed said. “Police were definitely the big promoter of the scanners.”
The city of Portland denied any knowledge of the ID scanner law when confronted by the Willamette Week, but assured the incident was the result of a simple mistake.
“We‘re glad when someone brings this up. We want to do what’s best to protect public safety and protect people’s rights,” Multnomah County spokesman David Austin said.
Incredibly, police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson denied any possibility of wrongdoing by Portland officers, even going as far as claiming bar owners, not police, would be to blame for any broken laws.
“It’s an issue between the bars and the company,” Simpson said. “We recommend a lot of things to people, but it’s up to the individual to make sure it’s compliant.”
While many bar employees praised the scanners, most notably their ability to keep the Oregon Liquor Control Commission off their back, others worried they were helping erode their customers’ privacy.
“I like having the scanner, but what does that data do?” an anonymous bouncer said. “ People don’t know; we haven’t given them the choice.”
According to Portland police, law enforcement from across the state will meet next week to review the program’s legality, which is currently being implemented at around a dozen bars.
A 2010 report out of Texas found that some scanners were even able to collect a person’s eye color, height and Social Security Number.
Unfortunately, ID scanners are just one of countless technologies currently being used to track and database millions of innocent Americans while out in public.
A new solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities website details Homeland Security’s plan to roll-out a national license plate tracking system, likely feeding unsuspecting citizens’ information into the same police and federal databases as the ID scanners.