The government wants restaurants to be part of the nanny state

About the Author
Mark Harmsworth
Director, Small Business Center

Governor Inslee’s recently issued guidelines for restaurants reopening in COVID-19 Phase 2, contains an egregious requirement to force restaurant owners to collect personal information for every customer. This includes the customer name, address, email, and phone number. The data is then passed to the state in the event of an identified COVID infection so that the state can track everyone that came in contact with the infected individual. The state will then require those contacts to quarantine or be tested for COVID-19.

This will effectively deputize restaurant owners to track their customers on behalf of the state under the threat of losing their business license or imprisonment if they don’t comply.  The rule further erodes the basic right to privacy and violates basic civil rights.  Under the governor’s orders, nearly all civil rights are already suspended.  The new order would now recruit private business owners as enforcers of government edicts.

If this sounds familiar, it is. China has recently started something similar.

Washington has been hiring an army of contact tracers over the last few weeks to enforce home quarantine rules and has plans to be extremely proactive in its approach.

Like restaurants, vehicle sales are also included in the tracking requirement. It’s also not a stretch to think the state will expand this to other businesses in the future.

The ability for Washington residents to engage in commerce unhindered is guaranteed under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It states,

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Certainly, the requirement that a business record every customer it interacts with and then hand that information over to the state is a barrier that abridges the rights of Washington residents and the businesses owners themselves.

Current state law gives broad, almost unrestricted authority to the state board of health in determining rules that govern the conditions and principles for isolation or quarantine. Under bureaucratic rules, the local health officer can isolate individuals, at their sole discretion, even if they are unable to determine if you are infected. With test effectiveness not being 100%, an individual could be required to quarantine even without a positive test result.

It is quite possible that a visit to a business that had a COVID-19 visitor, will land every person that visited that business during the day, in isolation.

This is not only a moral affront; it is an unnecessary overreach by the state. Threatening business owners with removal of their ability to operate and make a living unless they do the work of the state is unconstitutional. Requiring Washington residents to take a test or be forced to quarantine is also outrageous.

California recently passed rules that will allow retailers to reopen. The California rules do not require business owners to collect private information about their customers and send it to the state. If customers follow the basic, common sense distancing and hygiene rules, there is no fundamental difference between the business types and the rules should be applied consistently.

The safety of Washington residents is of course important but both residents and businesses have been sensible in their approach to the COVID-19 crisis and can self-regulate themselves to keep our communities safe. Restaurant owners will continue doing everything they need voluntarily to keep their guests safe.

The contact tracing data collection requirement should be removed from the guidance issued for restaurants and other businesses to operate.

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