Big Brother’s info tools

Laura Mijanovich is Northern Nevada Coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada

The 2001 Nevada legislature passed a law requiring the Gaming Commission to reform certain gaming card regulations. The benefits of the proposed changes are undeniable. They’ll establish a uniform statewide system enabling applicants to obtain cards that will be valid throughout Nevada. A one-time fee and background check will suffice, and the cards will be good for five years.

Unfortunately, the proposals also call for unlimited retention of applicant information by the Gaming Commission and for making it electronically available to law enforcement agencies upon request. The ACLU and Alliance for Workers Rights have objected to these provisions because they threaten the privacy of the nearly quarter million people seeking gaming jobs in Nevada.

The proposals are especially troubling given the Gaming Commission’s interpretation of related state laws that aren’t being addressed in this round of reform. According to the Commission, these laws authorize it to investigate any aspect of applicants’ backgrounds that members deem “relevant” and to deny cards based on any factors they consider “reasonable.”

Under the proposed rules, and in light of the Commission’s sweeping claim of authority, confidential information unrelated to gaming’s integrity would be collected and stored for at least six years from issuance of the cards—perhaps forever—and could be shared with and used by police for any purpose. Meanwhile, applicants couldn’t restrict what material is included or access it, so they could correct errors.

Privacy rights are integral to our democracy. They ensure that we can limit disclosures about our personal lives. They prevent government and business from unnecessarily stockpiling confidential information and, more importantly, from using it for illegitimate reasons.

The legislature never intended that the reforms it enacted be used to assault fundamental rights. It never meant to give government a tool for building dossiers on law-abiding workers. Nor did it contemplate that the desire to earn a living would necessitate sacrificing all claims to privacy and letting police indiscriminately use privileged information to investigate whomever they please.

The proposed gaming card rules lack the safeguards needed to prevent unauthorized disclosures and the harm they might cause, particularly given the Commission’s broad assertion of investigative authority. The revised regulations must require that files be purged after employees have left gaming for some designated period. They must also specify those circumstances when law enforcement might be granted access to protected information and how that information could be used.

Once these reforms are implemented, the legislature must revise those laws the Commission claims give it unfettered authority to pry into every aspect of applicants’ lives and to deny them the chance to work on whatever grounds the Commission considers appropriate. By making revisions, our lawmakers will keep Big Brother at bay and ensure that the constitutional rights of Nevada’s workers are preserved, and they are treated with the respect they deserve.