Will Small Businesses Burn through Americans' Goodwill by Snitching on Their Customers?

Small businesses, including hair salons, have been hit hard in the Pacific Northwest over the past year thanks to stringent government restrictions.  To make matters worse, leaders of blue states have become infamous for encouraging the public to snitch on these small businesses that are doing their best to stay afloat in a tanking economy.  However, a recent encounter at an Oregon hair salon leads me to wonder if small businesses will begin snitching on customers next.

Two weeks ago, I visited a beauty school and hair salon in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro, Oregon.  Little did I know I would be kicked out only minutes after I arrived because I voiced reservations about the intrusive three-page COVID-related questionnaire I was required to fill out prior to my appointment.

It was my first visit to the establishment, and when I stepped inside, a pink-haired receptionist with rhinestone-studded cheekbones took my temperature and handed me the questionnaire.  I dutifully answered the 15 questions on page one pertaining to any physical symptoms I may be experiencing.  Then I turned to page two, stopping abruptly when I read the first questions:

"Did you take part in a social gathering of more than 10 people in the last week in which you were within 6 feet of others?" followed by "If yes, was everyone wearing a mask/face covering, you included?"

I puzzled over the questions.  Had I mistakenly stepped into a doctor's office rather than a hair salon?  Was a small business truly probing into my recent involvement with other people just so I could get my hair trimmed and styled?  Perhaps page three would require my blood type and Social Security number.

I also wondered what the salon's policy would be if I answered "yes" to either question.  Would they deny me service?  More importantly, would they send my private information to the Oregon Health Authority to follow up?  After all, the business required my phone number and email address before it could provide service.

I asked the receptionist behind the counter a simple question: "If I answer 'yes' to either of these questions, will someone still cut my hair?"

Surprised, she replied that the questionnaire was store policy and that as a private business, they were free to ask these questions.

"I understand that.  But tell me this: if I answer yes to either of these questions, can I still get my hair cut?"

She reiterated, "As a private business we have the right to ask these questions."  She paused and followed up more boldly this time with "that is called capitalism."

Having traveled for two months through post-communist Eastern Europe in the mid-'90s, researching the various regimes, and having a number of friends from Poland, Romania, and Eastern Germany who have shared stories with me about life under communist rule in those countries, I have a decent grasp on the definition of communism.  So I offered it to her.  Unsatisfied, she asked me to leave the salon.  Apparently, in the age of COVID, requesting that a business tell you its plans once you've provided personal information is verboten in Portland and the surrounding areas.

In one way, pink-haired girl is correct.  A private business does have the right to refuse service to anyone it pleases.  The difference between her understanding of communism and mine, however, resides in the details: businesses in a capitalist society do not deny service to customers based upon whom these customers have recently associated with, nor on the space between those people, whether masked or unmasked.  On the other hand, in a communist society, businesses are controlled by the government, and business-owners answer to "big brother"; thus, a customer's right to privacy means nothing under these regimes.

Less than a year ago, Oregonians in front of the state capitol protested lockdowns that kept businesses like this salon from operating.  Now it appears that some Oregon salons have graduated from being the targets of Stasi-like behavior to being the purveyors of the same.  Denying service to a customer who dares ask whether she can receive a haircut even if she answers "yes" to intrusive questions regarding her recent social interactions reeks of methods employed in communist countries to control the populace.

Anca Pista, a Portland resident who was born in communist Romania before her family emigrated to Oregon in 2006, notes, "[In Romania] the government was always hiring 'insiders' from among the common people who would report back to the government to be able to control and manage any 'threats' or perceived changes in people's lives.  You wouldn't be able to tell who those people were, only by suspecting they were up to something."

And an article from The Globe and Mail notes, "In today's panic-stricken China, lawyers and police have warned of severe punishments for anyone who fails to disclose medical symptoms, even raising the threat of charging them with endangering public safety — which in severe instances can be punished by death."

Some might argue that those extreme measures would never occur in the U.S.  But only months after the pandemic's arrival in the United States, we watched governor after governor implement outrageous techniques to maintain control of the populace, particularly in Democrat-run states.

When salon owner Lindsey Graham defied Oregon governor Kate Brown's lockdown orders to save her business last May, "Child Protective Services engaged in a systematic effort to harass, bully and punish Lindsey Graham and her family for engaging in legal business activities," according to Graham's attorneys.  Months later, Brown made national headlines when she encouraged Oregonians to snitch on noncompliant neighbors who celebrated Thanksgiving with more than six people.

Reason magazine notes, "Jurisdictions around the country have launched online forms so people can set the cops on 'non-essential' businesses that continue to serve customers and people who stand too close together."  Likewise, a snitch hotline was established in Massachusetts whereby employees could rat out their bosses who defy local mandates.  The same behavior condemned in other nations has crept across our borders and is justified by the guilty as necessary precautions to keep Americans "safe."  I wonder: if I had answered "yes" to both questions on the document, would I have been reported as well?

In light of this trend, it is not implausible to assume that businesses snitching on customers will become more commonly practiced in the not so distant future. One year ago, I couldn't imagine being turned away from a business for inquiring about the purpose behind a private business prying into my recent social activities.  Sadly, twelve months later, invasion of privacy and citizen snitches are becoming the new normal.

Some may argue that the hair salon I visited is only doing its part to keep customers and employees safe during the pandemic.  I would respond that hundreds of small businesses are able to maintain safety without infringing on customers' privacy.  In fact, a week after this incident, I visited an excellent stylist who happily cut my hair with precautions in place without questioning my recent social interactions in exchange for the money I was equally happy to pay.  This is what we call capitalism.

The fact that many Americans are willing to exchange their rights for a false sense of safety provided by government leaders who lust for control sets a dangerous precedent.  Many Oregonians have guzzled the COVID Kool-Aid and now wear fear like a badge of honor, meekly complying with overreaching mandates and even performing their own surveillance of fellow citizens.  It may be too late for blue states to change course.  However, citizens of red states would be wise to note the gross government overreach occurring in states like Oregon and take impending threats to their freedom and privacy seriously.