Monday, August 14, 2006

Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere

A proposal to place security cameras at the entrances and exits of all New York City night clubs ("Plan for Cameras at New York Clubs Raises Privacy Concerns," New York Times, August 14, 2006) is raising eyebrows among gay activists. One of the biggest proponents of the policy is City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, a lesbian and activist for gay marriage.

Always popular with the homosexual constituency, Quinn has now angered many of her traditional supporters:
Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a citywide political organization formed by gay activists in 2004, said that Ms. Quinn was now in the position of “having to please a more diverse constituency than the progressive constituency that elected her.”

Mr. Roskoff said many gays have told him that they are concerned about the proposed security cameras because they do not want to be filmed whenever they walk into a club.

“When you go out at night, I think you have the right to be anonymous,” he said. “Not everybody’s out of the closet, and therefore it’s an invasion of privacy.”

Many large Manhattan nightclubs already use security cameras, but the technology is intended for the protection of the club owners and not their patrons.
Well, true, but you have the right to be anonymous regardless of whether you're in the closet. Debates like this shouldn't be framed in terms of how they affect a narrow interest group. When a Protestant, straight, white male (without even the intention of "hooking up"—some people still go out to dance) goes out and gets recorded, his privacy is invaded too. Sadly, the WASP guy probably doesn't mind being spied on, at least indirectly, by the state.

Additional nightclub security is a dumb idea. It's a natural consequence of a problem of our making. For one, "underage" drinking laws have the obvious effect of creating a forbidden fruit aspect to alchol, so yes, young people will naturally be drawn to clubs. But besides that, the gritty underground nature to some clubs is the result of where they are and why they're there. Pushed out of neighborhoods with eyes, clubs often exist in sparsely populated, run-down warehouse districts where loud music and crowds won't bother many residents.

What many New York City politicians don't remember is that many of us who choose to live in New York City do so because they want the privacy that you can't get in small towns and suburban subdivisions. State-mandated id checks and cameras are invasions of people's privacy. While they may thwart public drinking by people under the age of 21, they do nothing to thwart drinking, which instead takes away from the eyes of responsible, experienced adults, including parents.

A serious way to address "drinking problems" would be to permit anyone 16 or over to purchase alcohol in bars and pubs, and anyone 18 and over to purchase it in nightclubs. This gives children two years to learn how to handle alcohol in a controlled environment before they turn 18 and become officially adults. Obviously, this requires changes to both state and federal laws, but that's the solution. (Heck, a driving age of 18 wouldn't be a bad idea, and a driving age of 21 certainly makes more sense than a drinking age of 21.)

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