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ID scanners open door too widely to police

5:27 PM, Jun. 14, 2013  |  Comments

Count Frank Schadt among those of us who believe government - and not just the federal government - is taking extreme liberties with our liberties.

Schadt owns OB's Brauhaus, a successful restaurant and bar in Appleton, where police have developed a habit of asking local establishments to use police-issued scanners to collect information on patrons.

At least some bars now scan every person who comes in on certain weekend nights - proof that the program is about a lot more than deterring underage drinking or finding probation violators or those being sought on criminal warrants. At the end of the night, the bars return the scanners to police, along with all the information about who showed up to have a beer or, God forbid, a shot with their buddies.

Police say the program is entirely voluntary. The bars don't have to participate - just like Google doesn't always have to comply with government requests for information and just like AT&T doesn't always have to allow federal agents to siphon information about its customers absent a warrant.

VIDEO: APPLETON POLICE USE ID SCANNERS TO NAB CRIMINALS

But, of course, the last thing most ordinary Americans dependent on government for licensing and protection want to do is fail to comply with a government request - whether the government has good reason to make the request or not.

"A police officer tells you to stop your vehicle and you don't stop," says Schadt, "you know what is going to happen."

Of the 8,500 bar patrons scanned in Appleton bars last year, according to a story in Post-Crescent Media, 241 were found to be on probation and weren't supposed to be there. Already this year, police have reportedly caught 53 people with active arrest warrants. Some of the bar owners, at least, seem to appreciate the opportunity to keep certain people out.

Schadt, the thing is, doesn't see it as an opportunity. He doesn't like it and it's a sure bet a lot of his customers - regardless of whether they have an old unpaid speeding ticket or a completely and totally clean record for police to peruse - don't like it either. Still, he complies.

"We do it," he said, "because we don't want any problems from the police."

Schadt is not an American citizen. He's a legal German immigrant who says he has not been able to secure American citizenship. He says bars in modern Germany would never be asked to take part in such a program. I guess they know where unrestrained government can lead.

Schadt thinks the program is basically targeting people violating probation, which appears true and just goes to show how tough it is to stop such broad-based information-gathering from metamorphosing beyond acceptable parameters.

But that's not the only kind of morphing we have to worry about. It's almost impossible to know when government requests morph into subtle warrantless government coercion that puts business owners in a tough situation with their customers. The evidence: at least one blogger has urged a boycott of any place that agrees to use the scanners.

Police deny there's any sort of coercion here.

"If he doesn't want to participate, don't participate," said Sgt. Dave Lund, a spokesman for the Appleton Police Department, adding there would be no ramifications.

You'd hope not. But Schadt suggests it isn't that easy.

The police here "know I am not a fan. I do it because they ask me to," he said, noting that he's not a citizen and doesn't feel he can object. "I am the last person to open my mouth.

"I just follow the rules. That is all I do. I think it is not right."

No - if the scanners are used for anything beyond the stated purposes - it's not. Unfortunately, once allowed, there's little chance of limiting it to those alone.

- Mike Nichols: mrnichols@wi.rr.com

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