Government open-records requests can be boring. Government open-records requests made by a man who wants to obtain information about 70 licensed strippers in his town so he can “pray for them”, on the other hand…
The godly citizen in question is David Allen Van Vleet of Tacoma, Washington. In September he filed court papers to obtain personal information on 70 government-licensed nude dancers at a nightclub in his area – including their full names, addresses, photos and dates of birth.
(Yes, Washington requires nude dancers to pay a $75 (£47) a year licence fee. If government oversight is good enough for beauticians, it seems, it’s good enough for lap dancers.)
The county auditor granted his request under the state’s open-records law – although she also notified area dancers and club managers of her action. On 21 October two licensees sued to block the release of the information. Two days later a county judge issued a temporary orderblocking the release, with a final decision scheduled for 15 December.
Mr Van Vleet was not happy with the judge’s action.
“He essentially silenced 7 million people in the state of Washington to protect 70 people’s so-called right to privacy who dance on a stage naked,” he said.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, on the other hand, told the Associated Press that Mr Van Vleet’s interests were trumped by his clients’s rights.
“There’s some stigma attached to the occupation, and most dancers for personal privacy reasons and safety reasons, don’t want the customers to know who they are outside of the club,” he said.
The case has set up an unusual debate over free speech and privacy rights. What deserves more consideration, open access to government records or adult entertainers’ right to “artistic” expression under stage names?
“It’s entirely likely the person who wants this information is a crazy stalker or an anti-sex nutjob,” writes Reason magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown. “Maybe both. Maybe merely a blackmailer or a 4chan-er. At any rate, it’s hard to imagine many non-nefarious reasons for requesting personal information on a wide swath of individuals in a sensitive job.”
She points to a 2013 case where another Tacoma man who had been arrested for stalking and convicted of intimidating a judge tried to use the same public record laws to get contact information for strippers so he could offer them his social media marketing services (or so he claimed). He obtained nearly 100 records before a stripper-initiated lawsuit ended his requests.
There’s just no reason for a government-maintained stripper database, she says.