NORTHRIDGE, Cal. — The Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the trade organization that developed and administers the PASS program, has requested an explanation from Talent Testing Service (TTS), one of the drawing facility networks that works with PASS, about a new Medical History Questionnaire that TTS introduced last month.
The FSC is also looking to clarify the purpose of a retinal scan that TTS has been performing. This biometric technique, a form of “digital fingerprinting,” has been criticized by privacy advocates and has already prompted state legislation in Washington, Texas and Illinois to regulate its implementation.
Several performers, both privately and via social media, expressed concern over the weekend about the new Medical History Questionnaire (MHQ) and the retinal scan. They also contacted the FSC with questions about the implementation of these protocols at TTS’s popular Northridge facility, in California’s San Fernando Valley, and about the collection and storage of the data by the Florida-based company.
“Big Brother” and the Talent Testing Company
Last Friday, March 21, Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake visited TTS’s Northridge facility to get tested for an upcoming movie. After arriving at the drawing site, Drake was told to look into a camera. “I thought they were taking another photo of me for my file,” Drake told XBIZ.
“But then realized as he adjusted my head very close to the lens that they were doing what I believe was retinal imaging. I asked what that was for and [the TTS employee’s] first reply was ‘Big Brother.’”
The employees’ answer, an apparently humorous reference to George Orwell’s totalitarian surveillance state in his novel “1984,” understandable worried Drake. She repeated her question and was told that the retinal scan was being done in case someone in the system had the same birthdate as her. “Had I been told that it was an up-close scan of my eyes,” Drake told XBIZ, “I would have declined.”
Immediately after that, the same employee instructed Drake to fill out TTS’s new Medical History Questionnaire on a photocopied sheet of paper.
This questionnaire required Drake to answer extremely private questions about her medical and sexual history, including oddly specific and casually phrased questions like, “Are you taking PreP?,” (a misspelling of PrEP), “Outside of the adult entertainment industry, what percent of the time do you use condoms? (ALWAYS, Greater than 50%, Less than 50%)” and “Select all sexual activities that you participate in.”
This last multiple-choice question, #8, offered the options “Solo,” “Anal,” “Oral,” “Girl-Girl,” “Boy-Girl,” “Crossover,” “Boy-Boy (Top)” and “Boy-Boy (Bottom/Recipient).”
“Not only is question #8 vague,” Drake told XBIZ, “it also certainly stigmatizes and shames other already marginalized groups of sex workers, and time has shown that shame makes people hide their activities even more.”
Drake, who is also a noted sex educator, was “particularly offended by the crossover and top/bottom selections. I asked ‘what does this even mean? are you asking what I’ve *ever* done in my whole life or what I did last week? last month? last year? next week?”
The term “Crossover,” has been characterized as homophobic and biphobic because it is applied only to cis male talent, and has led to instances of prejudice against several performers on social media.
Drake became more frustrated and, after being told that “the center is run by a doctor and it’s his rule,” according to her account to XBIZ, she was warned that if she didn’t answer the questionnaire that she “could not have her blood drawn.”
After asking to speak with “Jenn” (or “Jenny”), the Northridge facility manager, who was out of town, Drake was connected to her in Florida but was not satisfied with her answers. According to Drake, Jenn was at the time with TTS Principal/President Sixto Pacheco.
“I repeated several times on the phone with Jenn, and in front of the two employees, ‘So let me get this straight: you’re telling me if I do not fill this out, you won’t draw my blood?’ Their answer was, ‘Yes.’”
“I felt completely coerced, and I had little choice,” said Drake. “I had to leave town that morning and I had to shoot when I got back. That was my only day and time to test.”
Feeling defeated and frustrated, Drake filled the questionnaire.
Performers and the FSC React
Drake went on Twitter that same day and wrote “so, i just got tested for an upcoming shoot and i was asked to fill out an “additional” medical questionnaire…has any other performer recently had this experience?”
Several performers, including Katy Jayne, Madeline Marlowe, Aubrey Kate, Aspen Brooks and Erick Masterson, replied that they had noticed the new questionnaire. “Would like to understand what this data is being collected for,” wrote Marlowe.
Two days before, performer Summer Hart had tweeted, “I haven’t heard anyone talking about @TalentTesting’s new ‘Medical Health Questionnaire’ But it does NOT include any information required by federal law, under [HIPAA] about how your information will be used.”
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is the legislation that provides “data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.”
Hart wrote on her thread that she had contacted both FSC and TTS to ask why the questionnaire did not include a HIPAA statement.
“They told me they were [HIPAA] compliant,” Hart wrote, “but, I know as someone working in a medical office, you are required to disclose to patients where their information goes, who sees it, and what can be shared with others. Their forms have no disclosure notices. How can performers have any idea who they’re sharing information with. Companies? Other performers? The entire [PASS] database?”
Like Drake, Hart also singled out the strange phrasing of multiple-choice question #8. “They ask if you’re having ‘crossover’ sex,” wrote Hart. “WTF does that mean? Who does that apply to?”
“The questions felt very strange & I looked over at @willhavocxxx & was like this crossover question is making me super uncomfortable. Like u said, wtf does this mean, where does this go?” Madeline Marlowe replied.
By the end of the work week, FSC had been alerted by Drake that there was a situation with one of the two main testing services that work with PASS. The other company, Cutting Edge Testing (CTE), had been contacted by Drake and confirmed that neither the new Medical History Questionnaire nor the retinal scans were standard for them. Drake concluded that the new policies were internal to TTS and had not been required by FSC as part of PASS.
XBIZ contacted FSC Executive Director Eric Paul Leue to clarify the relationship between the trade organization and testing networks like TTS.
“FSC developed and administers the PASS program — specifically the database used by performers and producers to validate tests (www.fscpass.com),” Leue told XBIZ. “It also sets the standards for the PASS protocols. We partner with independent testing facilities or facility networks, such as TTS and CET, who can meet the needs of PASS, administer the testing, and then feed the clear/not clear result into the PASS database. We do not operate or in any way control the testing facilities, nor do we have any access to the test results, other than what is available in the database.”
According to Leue, “FSC was not aware of this questionnaire, nor the retinal scans, until performers raised the issue. It is definitely not part of the PASS protocols. We have reached out to TTS to find out more about it.”
“TTS and PASS’s have a close and trusted working relationship since 2012,” added Leue, “but at least at first glance, we’re concerned about patient privacy, and the autonomy of performers. Why is this being done? What happens with that data? Is it in compliance with state and federal regulations? Is it being used with non-PASS clients? This was nothing that was requested or approved by PASS, so we have asked TTS for details and an explanation on these and other points.”
The FSC is particularly concerned with issues of privacy regarding the performers’ sexual history. “PASS never tracks or record sexual history or other activity,” said Leue. “When there is a production hold, a doctor at a testing facility will work with an affected performer to try and build a partner list. They may ask for the performer’s consent to share that information with PASS administrators, so that we can assist in tracking and identifying scene partners, which allows us to assess any potential risk to the performer pool. In the vast majority of the cases, a performer will work with us to try and alert and test anyone — on-set or off — that they may have had contact with. But such disclosures are not required by PASS, nor do have the power to compel it.”
“We’re working with TTS to find out more,” Leue concluded.
Talent Testing President Sixto Pacheco Responds
XBIZ contacted Talent Testing’s President (or “Principal”) Sixto Pacheco in Florida today to ask him about privacy concerns regarding TTS’s new MHQ and the retinal scans.
Pacheco was eager to clarify TTS’s position and to reassure performers that both the questionnaire and the retinal scans were actual improvements to the Talent Testing customer experience.
“These [the MHQ and the scans] are two different issues,” Pacheco told XBIZ. “We’ve always had a Medical History Questionnaire. There have been changes to it, but all talent have to go through it every two years. This new MHQ was implemented sometime in February , when the new test for HIV Antigen Antibody was added. The retinal scan has been around for a couple of years, since 2017 or so. I could tell you the exact date if I check with accounting because those machines are very expensive and we bought a bunch of them for all our locations. If I remember correctly each [retinal scan] machine was $1275! We always strive to make the system better.”
“The purpose of the scans was to properly ID everybody,” said Pacheco. “Many people have the same date of birth or the same legal last name, but with the retinal scans, you can tell more accurately who’s who. It’s an improvement! We started to roll it out in Miami, then Northridge, Vegas and then internationally.”
“It’s just more for identification,” Pacheco added. “People shouldn’t be worried about it.”
We asked Pacheco how securely TTS stores the biometric information it gathers. Privacy advocates have been pushing for legislation about data collection and storage for several years, and though there are no federal or international protocols, some states have been implementing their own. Under BIPA, Illinois’ 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act, private individuals can file lawsuits concerning the collection and storage of biometric data, like retinal scan information.
“Talent Testing stores all our information in our own security-enabled service,” Pacheco told XBIZ. “It’s not in the cloud. But I can’t give you specific security information, because of security.”
When asked if Talent Testing wanted to assure performers that their biometric and medical data was stored securely, the affable Pacheco chuckled and said “I surely hope so! I wouldn’t be in this industry if I didn’t know how to [guard people’s privacy]. Look, biometrics is purely a form of identification. It’s the only reason we’d use it for.”
As for the questionnaire, Pacheco acknowledged that Talent Testing “made a mistake” in not attaching the HIPAA compliance notice (as Summer Hart pointed out) to their new MHQ. “We should have [attached it] when we brought it out in February. I don’t have it in front of me but our medical director deems [it] appropriate based on how the tests are done. So that when he needs to treat [performers] or do follow-up he has that information.”
Asked about the TTS employee joking about “Big Brother” while collecting performer data, Pacheco agreed that Northridge personnel should have been given guidelines about how to discuss the new MHQ and the scans with customers.
“Look, Talent Testing has been doing this for a long time and this is the first time something like this has happened,” Pacheco said. “If we failed in one way or another, we’ll strive to retrain our personnel on any new improvements to our protocols.”
More Performers Weigh In
Unlike Drake and Hart, other performers seemed unaware of, unbothered or merely puzzled by the questionnaire and the retinal scan and the reasons behind them.
“It didn’t worry me when I tested there,” performer Maya Kendrick, who has used both TTS and CET, told XBIZ. “If it’s helpful in any way for them especially regarding anyone trying to falsify information then I’m for it. They already have my blood and urine — is having my eye scan really any more dangerous to my privacy?”
Several performers who spoke to XBIZ emphasized that they choose either TTS or CET based on factors like proximity to where they live or shoot, and familiarity with their personnel. Some of them spoke fondly of TTS Northridge facility manager Jenny as a competent, welcoming presence.
“I get tested at [the Northridge] TTS all the time,” performer Ryan Mclane told XBIZ. “I love [TTS employees] Bobby and Jenny, they are like family. [They are] always incredibly nice and kind.”
“Recently when we go into test we have to do the retinal scan to sign in,” Mclane added. “To be completely honest, I can’t remember why they said we had to do it. They also did give us a medical questionnaire which I told them I’m not filling out.”
Some younger performers new to the industry are not even aware that there are multiple networks that are PASS compliant and tend to go to the one recommended by agents and other performers.
“My retinas were scanned at TTS maybe six months ago, and then, the last time I went in to test, I was required to fill out a medical questionnaire,” Casey Calvert told XBIZ. “I thought it was a little strange, but I didn’t think much of it until last week, when I started hearing about it via Twitter.”
Still, the debate over privacy issues and the data collected remains a concern.
“I filled out the questionnaire but I didn’t like it and I don’t know who gets the information or even if I’ve signed off on anyone receiving it,” Janice Griffith told XBIZ.
“I just want [medical] staff to provide appropriate written disclosure notices in alignment with HIPPA and to provide information [and] written notices on why our information is being gathered, the terminology used, and who can view it,” Summer Hart told XBIZ via Twitter.
“Folks lie on sexual health questionnaires, especially one worded like this one,” Drake told XBIZ, summing up her experience and concerns. “Therefore they can’t possibly be a good resource for research. I did answer the PrEP question truthfully. I am very vocal about being on PrEP for about three years now. But why are they asking me that question?”
“I support their right to ask these questions,” Drake added, “but I also support a performer’s right to opt out of answering any or all of them. We should not be coerced to provide extra information with the threat of not being able to test. I’m super concerned with the fact that many performers trust someone in a position of authority, so they may not ask questions and instead sign whatever is presented to them.”