ID-scanning proposal raises concerns about Big Brother

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Utah's Senate President today says he's against a proposed statewide database tracking those who go to bars and order drinks in restaurants.

The system would work by scanning the bar code on driver licenses, and the idea is raising a lot of concerns about what's really on that bar code and who should be able to access it.

ID-scanning proposal raises concerns about Big Brother

If you go to the White Owl Bar in Logan, prepare to have your ID scanned. The bar got the device in 2007 after an underage decoy bought beer. They've used it ever since. Now the Utah Legislature is considering implementing it in all bars, and maybe restaurants.

"The governor has indicated he'd like to do away with private clubs in Utah. This might be one way to do that," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.

The system scans the bar code on the back of driver licenses and tells the reader if it's valid and if the person is over 21. The bar codes are on IDs in 49 states, and a concern for some.

"I feel like it's some Big Brother stuff, personally," a man named Vince told us.

A man named Kevin said, "I think it's a little too much control."

Along with people unhappy over the idea itself, some on the Internet are talking about just what information that bar code on the back of a license really contains.

People can download software to read the codes themselves, but Wally Wintle, bureau chief of the Utah Department of Public Safety's Driver License Division, says there isn't much there.

"People have concerns about the information that's on the bar code, thinking black helicopters are going to follow them around. But that's not the case," Wintle said. "The only information in the bar code on the back of the license is the same information that appears on the front of the license."

ID-scanning proposal raises concerns about Big Brother

Scanners like the one in the White Owl Bar do have the ability to store personal information. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is drafting a bill that would save it in a database that could be accessed by law enforcement.

But the Waddoups says that raises red flags with him. "That's pretty Orwellian, I believe. I don't think there's any reason the government would want to know what someone's drinking," he said.

These are concerns that will be no doubt be debated from bar stools to Senate seats in the coming weeks.

Law enforcement in other states scan bar codes during traffic stops and arrests. Agencies here tell us they don't because the equipment is too expensive. No word yet on how much it would cost to implement the system in Utah bars and restaurants.


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Sarah Dallof and Marc Giauque


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