Civil Liberties

Occupational Licensing of Strippers Isn't Just Unnecessary, It's Dangerous


Dreamgirls at Fox's/Facebook

We write a lot at Reason about the perils of occupational liscensing—how it serves as a barrier to entry for many otherwise qualified hair braiders or horse masseuses or costumed superheroes; how it's often based on little more than protectionism for those already in an industry; how it further bloats the regulatory state. Add another negative to the list: It can make people's private information a matter of official record, and thus fair game for public records requests. In some industries, such as those involving adult entertainment, you can see how this may get a little touchy. 

Dancers and managers at a Washington state strip club are now suing to stop their county from releasing their names, photos, and other identifying information to a man who has filed a public records request for it. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma Tuesday, says the Pierce County Auditor's Office received a request from David A. Van Vleet for copies of all adult entertainment licenses on file for Dreamgirls at Fox's. Why does this man want identifying info on current and former dancers at the Tacoma-based strip club? Nobody knows. (I reached out to Van Vleet yesterday but haven't heard back.) But because strippers in most areas of Washington must obtain an "entertainer's license", their identities are a matter of public record.

Attorney Gilbert H. Levy acknowledged that the information was technically fair game under the state Public Records Act, but said the privacy and safety interests of strip club workers necessitates keeping their real names and identities confidential. "It's a unique occupation and it's a controversial occupation," Levy told CBS Seattle. "Some people like nude dancers, and other people for religious or for other philosophical reasons don't. 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." 

In other words, it's entirely likely the person who wants this information is a crazy stalker or an anti-sex nutjob. 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. 

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson told CBS it wasn't her office's job "to interpret what the requester's intentions might be." And that's legit. That's a key part of government transparency, in fact, that random administrators can't subjectively block public records requests. There's just no reason these women's identities should be a matter of public record in the first place. There's no reason city or county or state governments need a stripper database. 

This isn't the first time Pierce County, Washington, has faced a conundrum concerning stripper record requests. In 2013 a man who had been arrested for stalking and was serving time in jail for assault sought information on area strippers—hoping, he says, to proposition them about using his marketing expertise to become social media stars. According to Seattle-based Komo 4 News, the man, Robert Hill, received around 100 dancer files—including their names, addresses, and phone numbers—from the county before strip club workers sued to block him from receiving any more records.