Pilgrim progress

Summary:The Register reports that in Yeovil, England, fingerprint security systems have been installed in many pubs. They are used to keep out "undesirable" patrons--i.e., those who tend toward drunken violence.

The Register reports that in Yeovil, England, fingerprint security systems have been installed in many pubs. They are used to keep out "undesirable" patrons--i.e., those who tend toward drunken violence. A committee of landlords and police (called Pub Watch) decides whom to blacklist and for how long. Pub owners who adopt the system are allowed to stay open later. Encouragingly, there's been a 48 percent drop in alcohol-related crime since the system went live. (Domestic violence, however, is up over the same period. Maybe they need to put fingerprint readers on people's front doors.)

So what?

If you're punished by this system, there's no obvious legal recourse: Pubs aren't public spaces--they can refuse entry to anyone they please. And owners must love it: Securing a "conviction" with Pub Watch is probably a good deal easier than securing a conviction in court. Actually, the Pub Watch committee is a peculiarly medieval institution in that it serves as judge, jury, and final court of appeal. Its makeup is skewed against you, too: Bobbies and landowners (read: sheriffs and lords) hardly constitute a jury of your peers (assuming you're a lager lout). The system also has echoes of "shunning," a Puritan practice under which a social deviant, rather than being locked up, was simply ignored by everyone in the community for a set period. It worked fine when communities were small and everybody knew everybody; today (alas for these impersonal times), we need fingerprint technology to deliver the same punishment.

The system could be extended. A wider range of socially unacceptable behaviors (driving while talking on your cell phone, delaying the line by vacillating over your Starbucks order, waiting til July to take down your Christmas lights, etc.) could be discouraged not just through pub exclusion, but through exclusion from other retail establishments, as well--if you're caught spitting on the sidewalk, for example, that's it: no suggestively-shaped chocolates for you for a month. As our court system becomes more clogged, there's something to be said for justice that's easy, swift, dispensed by a self-selected group of unchecked citizens, and without appeal. That something is: "Run away!"

Topics: Legal

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