bookmark_borderAs restaurants open, warrantless searches should not be on the menu

As restrictions on people and businesses are gradually lifted, a disturbing new practice has emerged. Some cities and states are requiring restaurants and other businesses to collect information on customers to assist governments with contact tracing efforts.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is asking all businesses to keep track of everyone who enters their establishment. “Businesses will be expected to play a role and to have a plan in place to help track employees and clients in their space,” a city spokesperson said. Michael Hecht, the President of Greater New Orleans, Inc. voiced opposition to this idea, saying that business owners are concerned about “privacy of customer data and whether customers even want to give this data.”

In Kansas City, Missouri, restaurants must collect customers’ names, phone numbers, and check-in and check-out times.

Elsewhere in Kansas, Linn County implemented a similar requirement for a variety of businesses including restaurants, health clinics, dentists, pharmacies, banks, stores, and day care centers. A newspaper publisher and a restaurant owner have filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the requirement authorizes warrantless searches. “Constitutional rights do not get suspended during a pandemic,” said Samuel MacRoberts of the Kansas Justice Institute. “There is a clear process by which governments can obtain business and personal records. Unfortunately, Linn County has ignored that process and put the basic rights of its citizens in serious jeopardy.”

Austin, Texas is also requiring restaurants to keep a log of diners. The president of the Texas Restaurant Association, Emily Williams Knight, called the requirement “simply not right” and voiced concerns about the burden on small businesses and the privacy implications for customers.  

Rhode Island has enacted a similar policy. “Establishments shall maintain an employee work log and retain the names and contact information of individuals placing reservations for a period of at least 30 days and make this information available to RIDOH upon request for the purposes of contact tracing,” the phase 1 re-opening guidelines state.

In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee initially planned to require restaurants to track each customer’s name, email address, phone number, and what time they came in to eat. Fortunately, however, he changed his mind and made the data collection voluntary.

Hopefully these data collection requirements will not become the norm. People have a right to privacy. People have a right to live their lives without their activities being tracked and monitored. And people have a right to go about their business – including going to stores, restaurants, and bars – without anyone knowing their identity, if they so choose. Requiring people to provide their identities whenever they visit a restaurant or other business is a disturbing step towards a totalitarian society.

bookmark_borderMGM should not be punished for Las Vegas shooting

Recently, MGM Resorts agreed to pay $800,000 to victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Survivors and victims’ family members had sued the company, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort, the hotel from which gunman Stephen Paddock fired on attendees at a country music festival from his suite on the 32nd floor. According to the Washington Post, various lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 shooting accused MGM of negligence for “failing to monitor the gunman as he delivered guns and ammunition to his room.”

The settlement “sends a strong message to the hospitality industry that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken,” said Muhammad S. Aziz, a lawyer representing over 1,300 victims and survivors.

Although it is completely understandable to want to do everything possible to prevent such tragedies, and to compensate their victims, the lawsuits against MGM are morally wrong and the company should not have to pay anything.

It is simply not true that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken. It is the moral duty of every person to respect the rights of others and to refrain from harming innocent people. But no person, company, or organization has a duty to actively prevent crime. To argue that MGM had a duty to monitor Paddock and the items he was bringing to his room is to argue that hotel guests have no privacy rights. This is morally wrong. What a hotel guest does in his/her room, and which items he/she brings there, are none of the hotel’s business. It is not clear how far hotels would have to go in violating guests’ privacy rights in order to avoid lawsuits. Would they need to search all bags brought into the hotel? Would they need to require guests to go through metal detectors, or though full-body scanners, or to be strip-searched? Would they need to install cameras in all rooms to monitor everything guests do? To take the logic behind the lawsuits further, one might argue that hotels have a duty to require psychological evaluations before anyone is allowed to make a reservation. And why stop at hotels? Mass shootings have taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, and all different types of places. Would these places need to require strip searches and psychological evaluations for everyone who enters as well?

Clearly, a world in which “all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken” is a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. It is a world with no privacy and no freedom. Businesses and organizations should not be allowed, let alone required, to adopt policies and procedures that take away people’s privacy and freedom of movement.

“This settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” said Robert Eglet, another attorney involved in the lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

But there is nothing fair about punishing an innocent company that did nothing wrong. Stephen Paddock is to blame for the shooting, and no one else. Because Paddock died by suicide after the shooting, it is impossible for victims to obtain financial compensation from him. And as understandable as it is to seek compensation elsewhere, one cannot simply find another person or entity to sue without regard for whether that person or entity is actually to blame for the shooting.

The lawsuits against MGM, and the resulting settlement, send the message that privacy, fairness, and individual responsibility do not matter. This is just wrong. Fundamental moral principles should not be sacrificed in the name of preventing tragedies.