Labeling the consumer: how mindless ID-scanning can hurt customers


Photo: Hryck. / Todd

Pennsylvania is sometimes referred to as "East Utah" in regards to its legendarily restrictive alcohol laws. Where else in the United States were you forced to buy a minimum of 24 beers from a 'Beer Distributor' if you wanted to take a drink home? Until recently, one could buy no beer from grocery stores or gas stations--just bars (and bar prices) or a box of two dozen from the nearest opaque-windowed distributor.

As Pennsylvania loosens up on its laws, some grocery stores are getting into the act. Giant Eagle and Wegmans now sell beer at a couple of Pennsylvania stores, albeit in restrictive "pseudo-bars" housed within the big box. Shop-N-Save is not far behind. They are glad to tell you that they aren't a grocery store, but a bar that is within a grocery store. This semantic dance upsets the beer distributors.

One of the main arguments against sales of beer and wine in a grocery store is that stores are supposedly notoriously lenient and give out alcohol to anyone. The other argument against opening up sales is that selling beer at gas stations promotes drunk driving. To counter the myth of 'leniency,' Giant Eagle and Wegmans have a 100 percent compliance policy that states all customers must scan their ID for every beer purchase. This is not a PA law, but a store policy designed to show due-diligence. But it's a solution that opens up a nasty can of worms in regards to personal privacy.


At Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh, every single customer, without exception, is required to scan their ID in this device, the Z22 CounterTop Id Checker. I asked at the store if they could simply type in my date of birth into the system, and they said no. I raised privacy concerns and was told that "if you want your beer, you scan your ID." Their policy is not to check 100% of IDs, it is to scan 100% of the IDs. Therein lies a problem: there is much more than my date of birth on my ID.

I called the Giant Eagle corporate office and was met with friendly assurance that they only collect and store this information to 'protect themselves' from lawsuits. I requested that they call me back and tell me what information they actually store and have not heard back from them. I think they are afraid to tell me what they keep, so I thought I would look into it myself.

While retailers are clearly not interested in identity theft, I do believe they have not thought through the possible consequences of gathering and retaining such wide-ranging data about their customers.

What could one potentially do with the Z22?

First, the data may be collected and retained. It may be paired with information from the concurrent credit card transaction. The Federal Reserve bank of Boston notes that to avoid identity theft, they recommend:

"Out of the Home - Shopping and Services When you sign a credit card slip, avoid putting your address, telephone number, or driver's license number on it."

But in the situation at hand, you don't write it down at all--you hand it over in a conveniently exportable format. The device is in fact designed to export the data for a variety of purposes.

Bear in mind that the information is time-stamped. There's no reason to think that credit card data is not also time-stamped. Name, number, DOB, billing address ... just enough information to facilitate identity theft should the data not be properly secured. A person with a gripe, someone in financial trouble who knows the value of the information, or an outside data breach would do the trick. If you store the information, it will come out. Remember TJMAXX?

Second, the data could be used for marketing to customers. This is encouraged by the device's manufacturer and easy to do--you can even create your own mailing labels with the system! As you are an existing 'customer,' it doesn't count as spam. 100% ID compliance means you get accurate addresses, too.   

Third, the data would allow retailers to maintain personal notes about people, perhaps by integrating the data into customer service records. While this may help serve customers, especially those with special needs, the potential for abuse is obvious. Do you have known 'trouble makers?" Imagine the fun you can have with 'tagging' your customers.

Fourth, it means employees don't need to use their heads anymore. It encourages 'zero tolerance' thinking, immune to common sense. After all, all they need to do is look at the scanner. It is completely foolproof? Reassigning information to a magnetic strip is impossible, right?

It could be worse: we could have automated wine kiosk robots that take pictures and breathalyze customers too. Since this is a new policy, I hope that these grocery stores reconsider that in 'protecting' themselves, they may expose their customers.  Common sense might say that any person over 30 would not be absolutely required to scan their ID. Then again, common sense is in short supply today. Update: On March 5 I received both an email and a personal call from Giant Eagle. The email stated that Giant Eagle only stores DOB, which is not true, as the caller who is involved with implementation of the scanners stated that there is a whole host of information stored on those machines. The caller was very sympathetic with privacy concerns, admitted that they had a problem, and stated that the company now has plans to remove all of these specific scanners by May.

The caller stated that Giant Eagle is now in talks with IBM to allow the cash registers themselves to scan the ID, perform a rudimentary ID check for age verification, but *not* store information in the system. He stated that the new system will be rolled out in April in Pennsylvania and all of the scanners that store information will be gone by May.

The caller also stated that they are modifying the current ID scanners with PINs so that even in the event of theft, the scanners will not export data. Additionally, he stated that all Giant Eagle would accept a passport as ID without the necessity of scanning.

This is good news as it seems that they have indeed listened, but there is one slight problem.

One of the initial reasons for storing all of this information was to prove 'due diligence.' I was told that the stores specifically store the information in case of lawsuits so that they can prove that the purchaser is above the legal age.

So it seems that they are listening, but the end result remains to be seen. It was a quick response I must admit. The email from the "Social media" representative was misleading, but the caller from corporate seemed informed and understood the privacy concerns.      


  1. I don’t understand why they think the world will end in a drunkpocolypse if they allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine. Many other states already do so and they’ve not fallen to the hoards of marauding boozers.

    Sounds more like a strawman put up so the distributors stay the only game in town, with the side effect being the stupid privacy problems with scanning ID.

    1. Here in Louisiana, one can purchase alcohol (beer, wine, hard liquor, et cetera) from any grocery store, gas station, or Wal-Mart and its equivalents. One of our most notable assets is the…I guess you could call it…’cocktail/mixed drink drive-though’. I never really realized this to be an odd concept until friends from out of state commented on it. These are usually either bars with a drive-through option, or small buildings completely devoted to serving alcohol via drive-through. The drinks come with a piece of white masking tape across the top. The rule is, never remove the tape until you get home and out of your vehicle, otherwise it counts as an open container, and is subject to local laws pertaining to driving with an open container.

  2. I lived in Pittsburgh for 10 years. The takeout price for six packs at a bar was not out of line for the price of a case at a distributor. Of course, that was in the 70’s, so bars may have gotten greedier since then .

  3. Maryland has similar pockets of stupidity, well actually Maryland is a pocket of stupidity when it comes to booze laws. We’ve only recently been able to purchase wine/beer in grocery stores and some of the larger liquor stores scan your license. The one law that really chaps my ass is not being able to mail order alcohol and have it delivered. Apparently MD goes after out of state companies that ship alcohol with a vengeance. I’ve ordered tonic water online and had vendors decline the order and claim they don’t ship to MD. Good thing I have friends in DC.

  4. With any informational hazard, whether it’s this, UK “identity cards” or any other form of datamining, I think the threat has to be assessed on capability, not intention. The question can’t be “What do they plan to do with this information?” but “what *can* they do with this information?” In this case the answer is “Entirely too much”. I’m glad I’m not currently resident in PA, as I’d have to avoid these places completely.

  5. I wonder how they’d cope with non-US citizens coming to buy beer? None of my ID has a magnetic strip.

    I did have someone in a Wallmart in South Carolina who insisted that I couldn’t buy cigarettes, despite showing them my UK passport and UK driving license, as I needed an ID number from the USA. Luckily one of the neighbouring cashiers came over and was more enlightened.

  6. Say what you will about Michigan, but there are always the few odd party stores that have single cans of beer on ice, near the cash register, that are sold in paper bags.

    1. Amen, but I still miss the drive-thrus. The one down town Ann Arbor was a freakin’ house!

  7. I think the bigger issue here is that they seem to be feeding a card in a machine and not really caring if that is really your card. Sounds like I could put my ID in the hands of a teenager and they’d scan it and let them go. Are they actually looking at the cards?

  8. It could be worse: we could have automated wine kiosk robots that take pictures and breathalyze customers too.

    I’m not sure that would be worse. Maybe it’s because I’m not really much of a drinker, but I’d actually rather have a retailer (who’s expertise isn’t in data protection, after all) storing my brethalizer data than, say, sensitive Personal Identifying Information as is found on Driver’s Licenses.

  9. What seems worse is the reliance ona machine. Are they even looking at the IDs? Sounds like it will be easy to give your ID to a teenager and have them waltz out with beer because the machien says they are “of age.”

  10. Man. Makes me appreciate my town. 3 beer drive thrus for a town of like 5000 people if that. And they sell booze at the 3 gas stations and the grocery store. And at the bars. Ohio has some benefits.

  11. As an aside to this, I’m a loyal Wegmans customer who’s actually a little distressed to see all the beer and wine all over the store now.

    First, I wouldn’t take my kids to a liquor store with me. Having the liquor store come to me isn’t in my kids’ best interest either, I don’t think. So I’ll leave them home with my wife, but that means they don’t get to go shopping and see how food is chosen and money is managed and all the other stuff you can learn there.

    Second, for alcoholics and other substance addicts this has -got- to be a torment. Before, you had to avoid bars and liquor stores if you wanted to avoid temptation. Now you have to avoid grocery stores, too?

    1. “First, I wouldn’t take my kids to a liquor store with me. Having the liquor store come to me isn’t in my kids’ best interest either, I don’t think. So I’ll leave them home with my wife, but that means they don’t get to go shopping and see how food is chosen and money is managed and all the other stuff you can learn there.

      Second, for alcoholics and other substance addicts this has -got- to be a torment. Before, you had to avoid bars and liquor stores if you wanted to avoid temptation. Now you have to avoid grocery stores, too?”

      Given the very reasonable rules re not abusing other commenters, I won’t risk a blow-by-blow deconstruction of all the fail I find in that comment, however tempting it may be, in case I cross the line. (Dead certainty, I suspect.) So I’m going to say nothing more than: Firstly, WTF? And secondly, WTF?

      (And wish that all the UK families in TESCO of a Saturday had the same ‘values’ as this commenter, so that their pesky brats were all left at home for fear of being perverted by all the cost-price booze on view. Food shopping would be soooo much more pleasant!)

      I’m always amazed at puritanical, almost obsessive/fetishistic, US attitudes to booze, compared to attitudes to sex and violence. Of course, this is only in some quarters – ‘cos I just remembered reading this ‘booze and kids’ story only a couple of days ago:

      So let me get this right – in the US you cannot retail booze to adults for take-away consumption, without severe and inconvenient restrictions, cannot buy booze without an ID, cannot drink until 21 (?) but it’s reasonable to protest if prevented from taking your toddler into a bar full of daytime drinkers?

      Q:Should bars that admit baby buggies be required to scan the ID of the baby? Discuss. ;-)

  12. Of course, if you’re worried about privacy, like a drink, and are into BB’s whole DIY philosophy, then I heartily recommend homebrewing. Unless they’ve already started tracking people who buy malt, hops and yeast that is.

  13. I used to live in the Rochester, NY area, and I seem to remember Wegmans checking all ID, but just by checking the date, not scanning. It might be different now though.

    I wonder how tough it would be to just program the scanners to only take the DOB, and not the rest of the info? Then again… I feel like I’d be just as uncomfortable with that system.

  14. I remember being a young man & buying 6 packs of cold beer at the drive-through window in Wyoming. The more courteous cashiers would ask you if you wanted one opened before they gave it to you! This was back in the days of open-container laws in Wyoming when booze was still free-range.

  15. Native Pennsylvanian here. Although in 33 years of life I have never heard PA referred to as “East Utah”, I have to agree with the general creepy vibe the system in PA exudes. It is interesting to note, perhaps, that the population in the state is one of the oldest, and as blue laws were rolled back in neighboring Jersey in the 80s and 90s, PA seemed stuck in neutral. Old fucks just don’t wanna change, and the graft, corruption, and resources at stake in such a resource as alcohol are not to be underestimated. It could take decades more for things to change there…

  16. Oh, Pennsylvania has been proud of its “blue laws” since long before Utah was even discovered by the white man.

    And Law is always the bestest way to corral behaviours.


    T E M P E R A N C E !

  17. I realize that this article is on the data collection, but it only touches on the alcohol restrictions in this state. Wine and hard liquor are only sold in state stores; they would probably be reluctant to give up the revenue from being the only legal source. Even mail-ordering alcoholic beverages is prohibited. Oh, here’s my favorite part: in southeastern PA, the bars close at 2 a.m. and the public transportation shuts down at midnight.

  18. If you’re a US citizen, give them your passport. I don’t believe they’re making them with mag-stripes (yet).

  19. 1st off it’s pronounced Jint Iggle.

    The restrictiveness of the system has nothing to do with consumer safety. It’s all about the effectiveness of the state liquor store employees blocking reform and the few restaurants that had carry out licenses blocking more.

    My favorite aspect of the whole mess is that the state store employees were expressly forbidden by law from commenting on the quality of any product. Gasp, *They might be favoring one company over another.*

    Or as my brother, who still lives in Pgh says: the road sign that is above the turnpike coming into PA should be changed to “Welcome to Pennsylvania, you’re F*CKED now.”

  20. So, I live in Utah, and hearing about PA’s laws make me think that it’s not “east Utah”, it’s “opposite utah”. Let me ‘splain:

    With the exception of the cockamamie rules about ‘alcopop’ recently passed, the liquor distribution laws are close to a lot of other states: Beer in grocery stores and everything else in state liquor, beer and wine stores. The legal limit for beer in regular stores is, of course, 3.2%ABW but the keen mathematician will note that equates to 4.0%ABV which is the norm is a great number of states.

    Basically, buying booze for personal use isn’t nearly as bad as PA sounds.

    Where Utah gets weird is the laws about bars, clubs, et al. It’s not that they’re just overly restrictive, it’s that they change in almost every congressional session so businesses can’t plan on their established format even being legal in 2/4-years-time.

  21. Want to bet who it is that spreads the most money around – opposed to – changing the liquor laws? Look real close at the Liquor & Beer distributors, no need to butcher that cash cow.

  22. An argument for ID scanning is that it’s a good way to ensure the ID will actually be checked. If a store simply makes it policy to check every ID, they won’t be. It takes time, it annoys the customer and in many cases it’s obvious the customer is of age anyway, so the employees will just skip it.
    In the supermarket I use most often, they now have integrated ID checks with the cash register. As soon as the barcode of a restricted item is scanned, the register reminds the cashier to check ID with a petulant beep and an on-screen message; the cashier can’t scan items or do anything else until he presses two buttons to indicate that he has verified the customers age. Apparently, some programming effort went into the system: it knows which age is required for which item, it calculates which date (or earlier) needs to be on the identification document, and if e.g. an 18+ item has already been confirmed it won’t ask for a 16+ item scanned later.
    So what happens in practice? As soon as they hear the tell-tale beep, the cashiers immediately and automatically hit the buttons to make the notice go away, without as much as a single look at the screen or the customer, and certainly without asking for ID.
    If the cashier is required to physically insert the ID card somewhere, this problem is avoided. This obviously still leaves a whole lot of other loopholes in the system, but I’m willing to accept the premise that selling some things to kids is a bad idea, and that a reasonably well-working system is better than nothing.
    Of course, none of this can be used to argue for storing any information from the identification document after the age check is completed. That’s just inappropriate.

  23. Hmm, me thinks that instead of using your driver’s license you should just use your passport. While that does contain demographic info it does not have a machine readable address. Also if you are concerned about your alcohol purchases being tracked or anything else associated with purchasing your booze with a credit card, just use cash.

    1. Only about 25% of Americans own passports, and I’d guess that the majority of that 25% leave their passports home unless they expect to be traveling outside the country.

    2. Lots of places in the US an American passport will not work as proof of age. I have no idea why but a few years ago I kept my long expired California divers license with me when I traveled, as well as a US passport. A great many bars etc across the US would not accept a valid United States passport, but almost every single one accepted my expired out-of-state driver’s license with a photo of me taken 10 years previous.

      I have a mag stripe writer. I wonder how much data I can change on the back of my ID and still have it be legal? Probably nothing, but it would be one way to fight a system like this. If I was in the area I’d be willing to change my name on the mag stripe to be I. P. Freely and see if the guy running the scanner notices.i

  24. There was a divorce case in Idaho a few years back where wifey’s lawyer served a subpoena on a grocery chain to acquire purchase records on hubby’s beer-buying habits as documented by his courtesy card. It worked.

  25. I come from Australia, and the state of New South Wales (containing Sydney) also has ridiculous laws. To open a bar, you have to have a hotel licence, and there are a finite number of these. (One does not require such a licence to provide accommodation, so a “hotel licence” is basically a licence to open a bar). These licences sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the way that New York taxi plates do. There are also a relatively small number of licences to run “bottle shops” (ie liquor stores), and these again sell for large sums of money. Grocery stores, gas stations etc cannot sell alcohol unless they buy one of these licences and then they open a separate alcohol store next to their main store, with a separate check out line etc. There are all kinds of weird rules to prevent anyone else competing with these businesses. For instance, it is illegal to drink (or even hold) alcoholic drinks in a restaurant while standing up. Theatres and cinemas may have bars, but nobody may buy drinks from them except ticket holders. And lots of other weird stuff. It’s all vested interests wanting to keep monopolies, but anytime someone suggests changing it, we immediately here about how it is all about public safety / protecting children / blah.

  26. The current PA policy is a combination of political patronage (LCB is 1 gigantic political favor dump), political power (Beer distributors are a major political contributor – way over tavern and bar organizations – remember who’s wife is a multimillionaire beer distributor) and revenue (LCB makes billions for the state).

    PA law requires establishments that server beer and wish to sell must have a large % (like 75%) of it’s sales to food.

    I think the scanning is an attempt to match up the physical license with the supposedly secure (hah!)data on the strip – like someone that could fake an ID including the security hologram couldn’t fake the mag data. As far as I know, the data is local – ie, just shown to the cashier to match with the license.

  27. …The problem started when Prohibition was put into effect. It was not something that a great majority of the US wanted at the time, but the Temperance movement was wielding the “Sword of God” at that time, and like the Sufferage movement took advantage of a war-weary and confused populace to force what was clearly a “special interest group” agenda into a bill that became a Constitutional amendment. One that state governments passed without allowing the voters in most states to decide out of fear of the Bibble Thumpers and their claim to be speaking for God/Yahweh/Roddenberry.

    …The bigger mistake, however, was made by FDR. One of the ways to help stimulate the economy was to get the Farm Belt going again, and to do this he needed to restore an additional traditional need for grains: the manufacture of alcohol for consumption. At the same time, it became obvious that Prohibition wasn’t working, as those who wanted a drink would get one no matter the cost. And as most people know, the “wrong” people were getting rich off of the sales of illegal liquor. The problem was that the Bibble Thumpers were not budging over Prohibition, and when FDR started vowing to end it if elected in his campaign speeches, these Bibble Thumpers started campaigning against him on the basic bullshit platform that “it don’t matter who’s elected, so long as he keeps the demon rum out of the hands of honest Americans!”

    …Now, here’s where FDR’s mistake comes in: in the states where the greatest resistance to repealing Prohibition was concentrated, FDR made a bunch of “under the table” deals that led to the totally clusterfracked mish-mash of liquor laws we have across the country today. In exchange for supporting the repeal of the 19th Amendment, the states, counties, cities, towns, and even *neighborhoods* would retain the right to individually decide just how much that repeal applied to them. They could open up the sale of alcohol to the entire state, or they could tightly control it down to city blocks if they wished. Just so long as production of consumable spirits were allowed, and the distilleries could open back up again to buy grains from the farmers who now had a new and viable market for their goods. In turn, the Alcohol and Beverage Commissions of most of the states were given a wide range of powers that effectively exempted them from having to respect the constitutional rights of anyone they bust. Hell,if Boing Boing is so worried about the DMCA, they should look at the TABC and its bust record sometimes.

    …What FDR should have done was renig on his deals the second he got into office. The repeal of the 19th Amendment should have allowed for consumable spirits to be produced in the US, and sold *anywhere* in the US. From the States down to the Neighborhoods, booze would be legal to sell and consume by anyone of legal adult age, no exceptions. This would have effectively nuked not only the power base of crooks like Al Capone – which was the public face of the evils of Prohibition – but the power base of the Bibble Thumpers who caused the mess in the first place. Considering the situation at the time, he could have easily gotten away with this by pointing out *both* of these failings, and the nation would have thrown the Bibble Thumpers into the jails as readily as they wanted to end Scarface’s empire with a hail of lead.

    …But he didn’t. And that’s why liquor laws across this country are, as stated above, a total clusterfrack. There’s no logical reason for one county to be dry when the county next door is 100% wet any more than there is a rational reason to deny alcohol to someone for three years after they’ve become a legal adult with voting rights. Especially if they’re old enough to go to war and die for their country.

  28. I had the bar code on my ID scanned once, and only once, At a gas station, to buy a pack of smokes.
    Immediately after getting in my car I took a black paint pen and colored in a few white spots, then took my pocket knife and scrapped off a few of the black spots. Now the cashier tries to scan it in 3 or 4 times, then just puts in my birthday and moves on.
    I’m not sure what one can do for a mag strip, but carving out a couple chunks should do the trick.
    I also don’t know whether messing with IDs in this fashion is legal but fuck it, it’s my personal data and if I don’t want to give it to you, you don’t need it.

    And to ANON @#11
    “First, I wouldn’t take my kids to a liquor store with me. Having the liquor store come to me isn’t in my kids’ best interest either, I don’t think. So I’ll leave them home with my wife, but that means they don’t get to go shopping and see how food is chosen and money is managed and all the other stuff you can learn there.”

    Is the very sight and presence of alcohol going to twist and warp your children into raging alcoholics? Along with choosing food, and managing money, a really important lesson you might want to instill is that there is nothing sinister or evil about alcohol. Among responsible adults it is perfectly fine to enjoy a beer, or glass of wine, or even too much beer, and 5 glasses of wine(as long as you have a DD. By shielding them at all cost from the very sight of alcohol you’re probably just setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment when they get older.

    “Second, for alcoholics and other substance addicts this has -got- to be a torment. Before, you had to avoid bars and liquor stores if you wanted to avoid temptation. Now you have to avoid grocery stores, too?”

    I’ve supported many of my friends in getting help for substance abuse. Taken them to AA and NA meetings, driven them out to a shack in the country when they are coming down and need to get away from it all. Most of them were successful in their efforts, and regularly hang out at bars (drinking free cokes as the DD), and believe it or not even go grocery shopping from time to time. One of them actually braved going to a liquor store (GASP) to get me a bottle of wine as a house warming gift. I’m not, nor have I ever been an alcoholic, so perhaps I shouldn’t speak for those that are, but I think most would take your suggestion of “Torment at the grocery store” with a laugh. The onus is on the addict to adjust their behavior in order to function in society, not the other way around. If someone is having trouble resisting temptation while they buy ramen, that person needs to get over it and move on. Not saying that’s an easy thing to do, but it is what must be done.

  29. I live in the Pittsburgh area. We do have very strict alcohol laws, but Mike forgot to mention the six pack shops in Pennsylvania as a possible source of beer. They are more of a pain really than a convenience. They are always inhabited by the shadiest of local folk, the prices are high and you can only carry out 24 beers at a time. So if you were planning on getting two cases for a party you have to make two trips to your car. I went with a couple of friends to buy beer at the Giant Eagle last week in Washington Pennsylvania and all three of us had to have our ID’s scanned even though only one of us was buying beer. Also, when I jokingly made the comment “just like old times” while handing him my card the clerk shot me a look that could be described as borderline combative. Seeing this, my other friend decided to joke about having a fake ID. The clerk stopped mid-transaction made a very stern comment about how he can’t say that then proceeded to scan the ID and study the picture on the card for almost a full minute. We laughed the situation off as we have encountered many like it while living in Pennsylvania. Oh and we have horrible public transportation so the DUI’s and public intoxication crimes in the area are through the roof.

  30. One store in my town occasionally asks to scan my ID for alcohol purchases. Thankfully it’s the only store in town that does, as I refuse and spend my money elsewhere.

    According to, it looks like there’s plenty of useful information for an identity thief encoded in a driver’s license. According to the state-by-state analysis, , it looks like PA includes the SSN with all the other personal info on the card. Jackpot!

    I wonder if this policy might also be a useful way for enterprising teenagers to buy beer. My DL has lots of security features on the front, and none on the back. If the store just reads the bar code, why not photoshop a new back of the license with an older birthdate in the barcode? Stick it on the back and trim carefully–you’ll have all of the security features on the front, and if you get caught with it, the police won’t be able to read the changes to the bar code without scanning.

  31. I moved to PA a few years ago, and have been frustrated by the alcohol laws ever since. There was a bill in the state senate a couple years ago that aimed to change the beer distribution laws. It disappeared, I believe, due to pressure applied by the beer distributors. Senator John Rafferty has created another bill with the same aims, but one major addition: he wants mandatory ID scanning for *all* beer sales. This is his concession to the “think of the children” opponents to sensible beer laws. To readers in PA: please write your senator and tell them to support this bill.

    Link to PDF of bill talking points:

    Although I don’t like the idea of stores data-mining from my ID, I am willing to deal with it in order to get these antiquated, backwards beer laws reformed.

  32. I’m not exactly sure what evils Giant Eagle and Wegmans will do with the data that they collect from driver’s licences that they don’t already do with the data from customer loyalty cards.

    1. Do you give them your real name and address when you fill out the loyalty card? I never do (most of the time they don’t seem concerned about whether or not you even fill it out), and I toss the card and get a new one very once in awhile just for kicks. Being legally required to have my personal info tied to every purchase just doesn’t sit right with me.

      1. I try not to give out very much personal information on those, but I have to say it is awesome when they robocall to tell you something you bought has been recalled. That happened to me this fall and I was delighted to not eat the rest of my potentially-listeria-contaminated food.

  33. The whole time I was reading this I felt like I was reading about some third world country, or at least somewhere that was more ridiculous on the courting V For Vendetta scale than the US is at present… This is a state to which I will refrain from moving. Thank you for posting this Dr. Shaughnessy.

  34. I live in Quebec. We can buy alcohol at 18, and purchase beer and wine in grocery stores, corner stores, and gas stations. It’s not super hard to get your hands on booze if you’re underage, but clerks typically check ID if you look like you’re under 25. This has been like that for ages, and our society has yet to collapse.

    And we have nearly-free, universal healthcare.

    And university costs around 3000$ a year.

    And same-sex couples can marry.

    And pot is nearly de-facto decriminalized.

    We’re also very open to immigration.

    You might have to learn French, though. :P

    1. > You might have to learn French, though. :P
      And you’d still be living in Quebec. If learning French isn’t a big problem though, you might as well move to France (but not Paris unless you like the smell of dog poo).

  35. The funniest alcohol law in PA is the one that prevents its wineries from exporting any wine. You’ve heard of wines from California, but PA? Of course not. Only PA’ers drink it. Because its nasty shite for the most part. And its illegal to export. like I said.

  36. I vote for being able to drink, vote and fuck at fourteen, but making it much, much, much harder to get a driver’s license.

  37. In Australia we can only buy take-home alcohol from bottle shops (liquor stores) and some bars. I lived in Japan for a while…. there you can buy beer literally anywhere. I’ve seen it for sale in drug stores there for fucks sake!

    While it is most def convenient having it sold everywhere, it is not needed. Aussies still manage to rank fourth in per capita beer consuption despite these restrictions and the fact that you can’t buy any take home alcohol after 12 midnight.

    IMO this 12 midnight cut off time is a great method for reducing drink driving because when people are the most drunk (late in the evening) they know they can’t buy beer anywhere, so they just have to deal with it (or call up the dealer).

    Underage drinking is a bit of a problem here, so we have strict rules on bottle shop staff, whereby they have to check the ID of anyone they think looks less than 25 years old. If they fail to, and end up supplying alcohol to kids under 18 (legal drinking age here), they and the store are liable for $10,000+ fines.

    Dangling scary fines over the stores is the way of making sure they are diligent in checking. This scanning stuff is bullshit, though… a computer is easier to fool than a person.

  38. Yes, Pennsylvania is pretty goofy with their alcohol laws. Fortunately for us here in Pittsburgh, there is quite a bit of homebrewing going on. – These guys review beer, and also do homebrewing.
    TRASH – Three Rivers Association of Serious Homebrewers
    East End Brewing – Scott makes some very interesting and highly tasty craft beers, and recycle everything
    Church Brew Works – doesn’t have great beer, but it is nice to see a brewpub in a church.

    It is very hard to get good microbrews here in Pittsburgh, and they are very expensive for the limited selection available to us in the bars that do carry that kind of stuff. Some of us are taking matters into our own kitchens.

  39. I’ve never, in all my years living in PA or elsewhere, heard of the state referred to as “east Utah”, though I can understand the comparison from a disatnce. PA has bad liquor laws, Utah has (I’m guessing) bad liquor laws. Do PA liquor laws really keep you from having a drink? I’m not sold.

    PA laws encountered by the general consumer (since I haven’t seen them noted elsewhere) go something like this:

    – beer is sold by the case or larger quantity only in beer stores. This has been a boon for local breweries, which can be more competitive against national brands per case, but not per six pack. Pennsylvania has, per my observation, one of the healthiest local microbrewery markets in the nation. The juggernaut of this industry is Yuengling, which is family owned, the oldest operating brewery in America, and very interested in keeping Bud and Miller from overrunning PA beer sales.
    – beer can be sold in six packs as restaurants and bars which meet certain criteria, and never more than a twelve pack can be sold at once to one customer.
    – wine and liquor is sold in state-run liquor stores only, with the exception of state LCB-sanctioned wineries and their sales outlets. In years past, the liquor stores were often run like a catalog company, where you place your order from a catalog at the front desk and a bottle shows up from the back on a conveyor belt. This is no longer the case.
    – each county has a given amount of liquor licenses for restaurant and bar service. This is a problem in some counties as economic trends turn the liquor license into the most valuable asset of a small-town bar/restaurant and nightlife flees to more populated areas.
    – the state-run liquor control board controls the sale of wine and liquor throughout the state, that means if you aren’t in their catalog, you aren’t getting sold without a special arrangement. Importing wine is also a problem in PA, though I’m not sure how much more than any other comparable state.
    – Until a few years ago, Sunday sales were limited to six packs at restaurants. Some beer distributers and state run liquor stores are now open on Sunday until 5 or so.

    AS for the quality of the local booze in PA, Yuengling, Victory, Iron City, Lions Head, Troegs, and any number of other local brewhouses are able to provide a wide selection of top-shelf brews. The strange beer laws are often traced back (according to them) to the efforts of these local brewers and their distributors to keep the local industry competitive against national brands.

    If wine or spirits are your thing, it’s a different story entirely. Red wine production is climactically limited in much of PA, though PA has an excellent climate for white grapes and fruit, so whites and dessert wines of top quality are not hard to locate among local wineries. Wines from out of state are largely limited to a select list of national brands. Fetzer and Gallow show up on far too many shelves in PA, but some improvements have been made over recent years. Booze isn’t a big production item in PA, and shelves are stocked almost exclusively with proven national sellers. I haven’t seen much in the realms of micro-distilleries outside of PA, which leads me to believe that this isn’t just a state-specific issue.

    Of course none of this addresses privacy issues or identification, which is the real reason for the thread. Sorry about that.

  40. I live in Rochester, Wegmans’ home town, it is definitely not a company-wide policy to scan your ID for booze, when they scan some booze the register beeps and won’t let them do anything until they put in an appropriate DOB, I believe it is their policy to proof everyone, even those who are obviously over 30, I’ve seen stooped over little old ladies with white (or blue) hair and wrinkles have to fish out their IDs for wine.

    But if buying booze at the gas station leads to drunken driving, then we’re screwed, we have a liquor store that has a drive-thru window.

  41. Yeah well… we’re the home of Yuengling Lager. So there.

    And don’t you ever refer to Pennsylvania as “East Utah” ever again. We’ve got no trouble getting liquor. Just look at the Coal Region.

    But yes, the liquor laws are stupid, and the only reason there’s dissent against loosening them is because the distributors will go out of business. It makes no difference to me really. It’s not like alcohol is prohibited in anyway.

    As for the ID scans you also need them to get into certain casinos or for other age-verifications. Honestly, it doesn’t concern me all that much.

  42. They must be on to something there in Pennsylvania. It also explains why Oregon streets are littered with drunken snoring bodies starting about 10 feet from the entrance of any store or supermarket. And all the weaving cars that end up in the ditches within the first mile, driven by those more capable of throttling back their alcohol intake. We need some more draconian control on our beer and wine sales here or we won’t be able to get through another day without falling into an alcoholic stupor.

  43. This reminds me of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where a few years ago I went into a wine store to buy some wine and when I asked about buying a corkscrew, I was told that the law did not allow them to sell corkscrews and wine at the same time. This is the same city that once fought over having alcoholic drinks served on a restaurant’s outside terrace, claiming that the drinking glasses had to be opaque lest the youth of the city were tempted by the sight of people consuming alcoholic beverages.

  44. Yeah, all sorts of places have weird liquor laws. In Ohio, the state has a monopoly on liquor sales; the county in Tennessee where Jack Daniel’s is distilled is dry; &c. Illinois got mentioned in a This American Life episode (the one that talked about the informer at Archer Daniels Midland, the one who was played in the movie by Matt Damon) in which they talked about the state law that basically locks in the local liquor distributors by prohibiting stores from buying directly from alcoholic beverage producers.

  45. kmoser (#20), the RFID chip in a recent US passport is just as scary as a mag strip. It’s better only in that a grocery store isn’t expecting RFID on customer ID (yet).

  46. @16: Native Pennsylvanian here, and as some people have hinted, the PA liquor laws have nothing to do with “prohibition” and everything to do with the fact that the state booze monopolies are enormous tools for political patronage. It started partly as a way to pacify organized crime at the end of the Prohibition era–all the better-connected rum-runners were shuffled off into the Dept. of the Sauce. Now, they’re just a bunch of bureaucrats on rich sinecures bartered for campaign support.

  47. In Germany, most gas stations have beer on sale as it is totally practical to take your car and load it with beer. In addition, you can go to a beer shop/cabin, order your beer, and have it delivered to your home. There are few problems with drink driving (unless you are a Protestant female Bishop that is) as the law comes down very hard on those who do (unless you are a Protestant female Bishop that is).

    Similarly, in Australia, it is common to encounter a road that has 30+ police performing spot checks for drink and drugs with a large wagon for arrests/charging and tow trucks to remove your vehicle. On one Sunday when I was working out there and driving around I was stopped and tested five times at different locations.

  48. I’m in West Virginia, and for once we seem downright modern. I’m not much of a drinker, but it I wanted to be a drinker, that would be more-or-less up to me.

    I can by 190 proof grain at the local 7-11 (I don’t drink it, but I’m an herbalist to I use it for tinctures).

    Beer and wine at any grocery store, and they’ve just changed the laws so that one can buy “intoxicating beer” (i.e., 14%) at the local wine shop.

    I can mail-order beer or wine (can’t remember which one, ’cause I’ve never done it).

    Truth be told, I think alcohol kind of-sucks (there are much better intoxicants out there) and I think society would be much better off with a lot less drinking. But gosh darn it, that should be people’s decision, not the governments. Prohibition in any form (be it full-out of soft like blue laws) has never worked and never will.

    (Captcha: “brag then.” Well, I guess I am, but we West Virginians don’t get that opportunity much!)

  49. Bars have been using these ID scanners for quite a while now. Like another commenter said, I don’t know why anyone would get any more upset about this than they do about the info collected from loyalty cards. I’m far more OK with people knowing I drink Blue Moon than I am having them know I need Super Deodorant Tampax.

  50. I went to school in Pittsburgh 20 years ago. The state run hard liquor stores didn’t card anyone ever.

    That such draconian restrictions apply be beer sales is hilariously ironic.

  51. Other states offer beer and wine in their grocery stores, but do not mandate the ID-scanning such as in PA with the Giant Eagle chain.

    As another person said – many times I can walk into the liquor store without having my ID even checked. Then again, I am over 30 now so I shouldn’t have to be scanned at all. What if someone who visibly looks older than 30 (ex: wrinkles and grey hair) – seriously people are just getting dumber these days!

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