Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Conscription of Restaurants to Surveil Diners

by | May 17, 2020


Isn’t lifting the prohibition on reopening businesses that were required to close in the coronavirus crackdown supposed to provide greater respect for individual rights? It seems that that is not the view of some politicians, including Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Inslee announced on Monday that some restaurants will be permitted to reopen for in-restaurant dining at 50 percent capacity. That is not great, but at least it is a start. But, here’s a catch: Inslee mandated that restaurants record the phone numbers, email addresses, and arrival times of all diners, and that all diners provide such information. In other words, the governor mandated that restaurants in the state participate in carrying out a new government surveillance program.

Why? Inslee said the purpose was to facilitate “contact tracing” that will supposedly help counter coronavirus.

Later in the week, after much backlash against the new surveillance program, Inslee backed off some on the mandate. His amended mandate, however, still requires restaurants to engage in surveillance for the government. It requires that restaurants maintain lists of contact information that is “voluntarily” provided by customers. Inslee even provides along with the amended mandate announcement a form restaurants can use to record the surveillance information.

A government “request” for “voluntary” compliance, even when relayed through a waiter or other restaurant employee, can seem like a demand to diners. And many restaurant owners who are fearful their restaurants will be required to shut down again and who are held under the thumb of government licensing and periodic government inspections will likely hop to making sure much information is put on the government surveillance form Inslee has provided.

Protecting “public health” has worked well over the last couple months as the purported justification for many draconian mandates in Washington and across America. Governors like Inslee, along with other politicians at all levels of government, insist on continuing to use that excuse to maintain as much of the mandates as possible into the future and even to create new expansions of government power at the expense of liberty.

It would be nice to see many restaurants in Washington become conscientious objectors in response to Inslee’s attempt to draft them into carrying out the new surveillance program. Other restaurants could instruct their employees to emphasize strongly that diners can refuse to provide any information and, also, that refusing to provide information will speed things along by preventing an annoying disruption for the filling out a government form. Such approaches would be in the best interest of customers’ liberty.

Still, some businesses just need a nudge for them to jump to implement government’s wishes or are happy to pass the buck for their policies that are unpopular with a significant number of customers or potential customers.

Consider, for example, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek’s letter in which he discusses the company’s refusal to allow people to shop in Costco stores unless they wear “face coverings.” Jelinek points for support for this requirement to what the United States government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recommends.”

Governments across America, of course, have given Costco a huge advantage over competitors during the coronavirus crackdown by approving Costco stores staying open while terming “nonessential,” and mandating the closing of, many of Costco stores’ competitors.

The good news is that across the country many businesses have been reopening before permitted by government, while others have waited to reopen when permitted but have done so without obeying all the government-imposed mandates. In most instances these departures from compliance are likely mainly a matter of attempting to ensure businesses can survive. In some instances. the defiance is an expression of principled opposition to the mandates.

No matter the reasoning behind businesses’ defiance, hopefully the defiance succeeds in helping move America back to the “old normal” or onward to a yet better state in terms of respect for liberty.

Governments at the national, state, and local level have already robbed people of liberty for months and plummeted the economy into severe trouble that will have detrimental effects long into the future. Having a more free and prosperous future in America largely depends of businesses saying “no” both to orders that they be closed and to oppressive “new normal” rules and recommendations for how they operate.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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