'Have your face scanned or fingerprint taken to buy a drink': New plans for digital IDs for drinkers in pubs and bars

25 January 2024, 10:01 | Updated: 25 January 2024, 10:32

Drinkers face digital ID checks
Drinkers face digital ID checks. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Drinkers face having their faces scanned or fingerprints taken when buying alcohol in pubs, bars and shops, under new government proposals.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

As well as being used in physical shops, people could also use the digital ID system online, the Mirror reported.

The plans are part of a Home Office consultation on how "digital identities, age estimation and other technology" could be used to verify people's ages.

Currently, if challenged, people have to show ID with a photograph, their date of birth and a holographic or ultraviolet mark.

"In practice this means that currently only physical identity documents are permitted," the government said.

No one would be required to have a digital ID - which is defined as "a digital representation of your identity information, like your name and age".

Read more: Wetherspoons boss Sir Tim Martin brands Dry January a 'cult', and effect on pub sales has got worse in recent years

Read more: Big brother at the bar: Giving your fingerprints just to buy a pint will lead to a surveillance state

Afternoon drinkers, enjoying the sunshine outside, Glass House Pub, Glass House Street, London, UK.  26 May 2023
Afternoon drinkers, enjoying the sunshine outside, Glass House Pub, Glass House Street, London, UK. 26 May 2023. Picture: Alamy

Home Office minister Chris Philp said: "The Government is keen to enable the secure and appropriate use of new technologies that can improve the experience of consumers and retailers.

"We are therefore consulting on whether to amend the act so as to allow digital identities and technology to play a role in age verification."

The Home Office said in a statement: "Discussions with stakeholders in the hospitality, retail and licensing sectors, as well as policing, suggest that there could be considerable support for the use of digital identities as well as technology to help to establish if an individual is old enough to purchase alcohol

Several supermarkets - Asda, Co-op, Tesco and Morrisons - have already trialled an AI face-scanning technology that aims to check if someone is over 25.

Chris Philp
Chris Philp. Picture: Alamy

If the system thinks someone is under 25, they have to do a standard age check with a physical ID.

The Home Office consultation added: "The need for robust national standards for digital identities and technology remains paramount in order to provide confidence to retailers and consumers alike that they are fit for purpose.

"Any change would reflect the wider cross-government position on the use of digital identities and technology for the sale of age-restricted products and will only take effect once there are government approved national standards in place.

"We are also considering whether the act adequately covers transactions that do not take place face to face.

"Currently the act only sets out a requirement to verify age at the point of sale or appropriation to a contract, not at the point of delivery. We are reviewing whether this is still right and whether there should additionally be checks at the point of delivery and / or service. We are consulting on whether to amend the act so that it is explicit about when age verification must take place."