Tantra Nightclub: Where everybody knows your name - and your identity

* Nightclub scans driver's licenses to curb violence

Usually when Calgary, Alberta is mentioned in this newsletter it's something about Pamela Dingle, doyenne of the Pamela Project, but not this time. This time I want to tell you about a bar. Calgary's Tantra Nightclub thought it had hit on a way to keep the violence down by scanning patrons' driver's licenses as they entered. According to a story in the Calgary Sun, this was Tantra's way of contributing to Alberta's "Cage Your Rage" campaign and bouncer training program. But the city's Information and Privacy Commissioner recently ruled that this was a privacy violation and could no longer be allowed. This was applauded by many, including Microsoft's identity guru, Kim Cameron. However, I'm going to side with the night club.

Up front, though, let me say that the objection I have is to this being done without the patron’s knowledge and consent. Tantra should tell them what will happen, then leave it up to the individual to decide if they want to go in (and provide their identity data) or not.

Anonymity does breed, or at least foster, violence. One hundred years ago, when everyone in the bar would know who you were (even if that knowledge was simply “the guy who rents a room from Jake” or “the fella who’s fixing Bobby’s barn”), random acts of violence were few and far between. There were still fights, of course, but if laws were broken the police/sheriff would know where to find the perpetrator.

Where Kim, and many others, have gone wrong is to equate privacy with anonymity. You don’t have to be anonymous to maintain the privacy of your data. Again going back 100 years when you went into the bar and everybody knew your name there was also much about you that wasn’t known. Most things about you, in fact, weren’t known. Those things we want to keep private - our medical data, financial data, legal situation, etc. - were kept private. But people did know who you were, and perhaps where you lived, or worked, who your family was - and no one thought that was strange.

Today, the big city dweller - and even the small town citizen - can too easily be anonymous when they decide to take the law into their own hands, or just break the law. Knowing that someone else knows who you are can be a deterrent without in any way sacrificing the privacy of the data that shouldn’t be released in public.

The answer isn’t to prohibit the bar from knowing the names of their patrons, but to structure the data capture so that as little data as is needed is taken, with the patron’s consent, and is destroyed as quickly as possible after the bar has closed if no incident has occurred. There does seem to be an opportunity here for a forward thinking vendor.

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