Opinion: Night on the town? Your privacy is at stake

Posted on Sep 10 2018 - 5:50am by Lauren Moses

The Square is home to a multitude of restaurants and bars, all creating an atmosphere of fun and entertainment for each patron. However, the Square also serves as one of the most crime-ridden areas of Oxford. With bars and restaurants over-serving both customers of legal age and those who are underage, there is little control over the number of disturbances in that area. Almost every other day, the Oxford Police Department arrests someone for possession of a fake ID after they have disturbed the peace in some way.  


There is a clear breakdown of enforcement of federal law. Either bouncers are not checking every ID — allowing some to enter the bar or receive an “over 21” wristband without being checked — or they are not checking IDs thoroughly enough to ensure their validity.


Instead of increasing punishment of those who are hired to enforce drinking laws, the city council has decided to strip civilians of their right to privacy. The ordinance enacted by the Oxford Board of Aldermen on Sept. 4 will implement the use of ID scanners at bars to limit underage drinking by detecting fake IDs. While ID scanners are effective at their job, they also receive and store more than just your birthday with each scan.


Every ID — whether military, driver’s license or passport — holds sensitive information on it. Here’s how ID scanners work: Your address, birthday and, possibly, your Social Security number can all be seen and stored when the ID scans through the machine, which leaves your information vulnerable for a bar to use however it sees fit.


Several bars in El Paso, Texas, have started using ID scanners and have reported the scanners’ ease of use and increased enforcement of drinking laws. But they have also used the information from patrons’ IDs to advertise better to customers. According to an article from KVIA, owners realized after analyzing address data collected from the scanners that they were getting a lot of customers from different neighborhoods, so they started advertising in other ZIP codes. Though there are no reported cases of identity theft from these scanners, a birthday and Social Security number, both of which can be obtained by these scanners, are all that is needed to steal an identity.


The Oxford Board of Aldermen seems to be aware of the possibility that the information garnered by ID scanners will be used against citizens: A clause included in the ordinance discourages businesses from using or selling personal data. But what guarantee do citizens have? The city is compromising privacy for security. Just look at recent headlines about major social media companies like Facebook, which sold personal information to analytics companies. Your personal information is not safe. So why take the risk during a night on the town and allow a bar to scan your ID?


There are other solutions to solving the problems of fake IDs and resultant crime other than forcing citizens to give up their personal information to bars on the Square. This ordinance is simply another quick fix to the greater problem facing the university and city: underage drinking. The board of aldermen and the city of Oxford should look to protect their citizens and their citizens’ information, making the Square a safe and enjoyable experience for all.


Lauren Moses is sophomore accounting and political science major from Dallas.