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UK considers digital identity for age verification in booze sales

UK considers digital identity for age verification in booze sales

A statement from the Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire says the UK government has launched a consultation on legally adopting digital identity for age verification in alcohol sales, and on an amendment to existing laws covering age verification for remote alcohol sales.

According to Minister Chris Philp, the government “is keen to enable the secure and appropriate use of new technologies that can improve the experience of consumers and retailers.” But in its current form, the Licensing Act 2003 covering alcohol sales requires that age verification be done without the aid of technology – i.e. in person, with a physical ID if needed. A human must decide whether or not to proceed with sale.

Changing the law would mean software could legally make the decision on whether or not a person is old enough to purchase alcohol. Another proposal would see legislation amended to explicitly require age verification at both point of sale and point of delivery.

“Any change would reflect the wider cross-Government position on the use of digital identities and technology for the sale of age-restricted products,” says the statement from Minister Philp, “and will only take effect once there are government approved national standards in place.”

The consultation is to run for 8 weeks; results will be published thereafter.

Some pundits not keen to trade a print for a pint

A bloke shouldn’t have to hand over his biometrics just to get a bloody pint: so says an article in LBC bemoaning the Home Office consultation on how digital ID, age estimation and other technology could be part of the age verification process at pubs and bars.

While the opinion piece by EJ Ward tends toward the hyperbolic – “this overt invasion of privacy and erosion of civil liberties sends a chill down my spine,” he writes – the author makes some salient points.

“Make no mistake,” says Ward, “any fingerprint data collected will inevitably end up in massive databases under the control of the government, or even worse some outside contractor. Might such databases be used to impose stricter alcohol purchase limits or deny service to those flagged as ‘risky’ drinkers by some algorithm?”

“The potential for abuse,” he writes, “is enormous.”

Fingerprints are not used in age verification systems currently on the market or mentioned in the government announcement, and age checks can be carried out without storing purchase information that can be tracked.

Regardless, Ward is also accurate in his assessment of how our transactional society is trending globally: “Perhaps before we can open a bank account, rent a flat, or access government services, we’ll be asked to scan our faces and fingertips first.” He calls this a bleak Orwellian future, although much of it is already coming to pass.

Worth noting is Ward’s novel argument that it might not be worth spending so much time and money on stamping out underage drinking, when Generation Z has generally shifted away from alcohol use. Vaping, however, is on the rise – proving there will always be something that adults want to stop kids from messing with, and an ongoing need for age verification tools.

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