Show us your papers!

September 17, 2021

Reader: This is a COVID testing station at Seattle’s Alki Beach. It’s been there a couple months, one of several that have popped up around town during the pandemic. Yesterday the King County Health Department decreed people would have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test before they could get into restaurants, bars, or public events, and today I see that a “no photography” sign has appeared on the testing station. It’s funny how the government tries to make us respect medical privacy in a public place like this, yet at the same time they’ll make us show our vaccination records to some local bartender or ticket taker.

David: There are three problems with this signage. First, whoever put it up is misinterpreting HIPAA laws. HIPAA doesn’t apply to private citizens; it’s for health service providers.

Second, with the exception of a few top-secret military facilities, people are allowed to take photographs of anything that happens outdoors in a public place, and no public official can prevent them from doing that. This has been upheld in a number of court cases. For a time after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, some officials, on their own initiative, were telling people they couldn’t take photographs of government installations or sensitive infrastructure, like airports and hydroelectric dams. Whenever the officials were taken to court on that, they lost. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take pictures of people standing in a line to get vaccinated or tested for COVID. It’s still an invasion of their “privacy” in a sense, but as long as you’re outside the yellow tape, you can take a picture.

Third, I guess the irony of this situation is lost on people. Right above the “No photography or video” sign is a camera and a notice that the whole area is under 24-hour surveillance.

How’s that for privacy?

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