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Pennsylvania

Wine kiosks' ID system detailed

| Wednesday, June 11, 2008

HARRISBURG -- A company proposing wine kiosks in grocery and wholesale discount stores statewide would use technology that verifies identities, checks blood-alcohol levels and tracks consumer purchases to reveal "problem drinkers," according to a management summary presented to the state Liquor Control Board.

Simple Brands of Bala Cynwyd in Montgomery County is the lone bidder to establish 100 wine vending machines, LCB spokesman Nick Hays confirmed Tuesday. He said the board is considering the company's bid and would make a decision soon, although he was unable to give a date.

The technology uses fingerprints and infrared arm scans to prevent underage drinkers and inebriated consumers from buying wine, the management summary says. The company lists the technology that "tracks purchasing data (to) reveal potentially problem drinkers" under a section titled "community benefits."

Users would register by providing several fingerprints, the company says. They would offer a valid credit card when registering.

Opaque glass on the machines would prevent minors from viewing alcohol, the proposal says. The wine selections would become clear once a customer's identification is verified. Thermally sealed security bags would prevent others from knowing what type of wine they have purchased, the proposal says.

Simple Brands could not be reached for comment.

The proposal has to pass muster on whether the technology is viable, Hays said.

"They are not going forward with it if it doesn't meet the technical requirements," he said.

Some Republican lawmakers question under what authority the liquor board can expand wine sales to grocery stores. Such a move should take a change of law approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, said Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks County.

Hays didn't respond to an inquiry about the legal basis for extending sales to grocery stores.

But LCB lawyers have told the Legislature they believe under existing regulations, they can license kiosks as if they are separate stores.

As for the technology, "some will call that an invasion of privacy," said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans.

"Good grief," Rohrer said, when told about the proposal to scan forearms and "noninvasively measure alcohol content."

Rohrer has railed at the state's proposed use of digital technology -- high-resolution photography -- on driver's licenses. The LCB proposal needs to be examined along with REAL ID, which utilizes technology and, Rohrer contends, violates personal privacy. Proponents say the use of standardized identification cards across the nation would help fight terrorism.

Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said the LCB proposal sounds promising and would mean increased convenience for consumers. But he said he didn't know the details and would need to examine the LCB's plan before deciding whether it's appropriate.

The concept enables the LCB to expand sales and profitability without the cost of building full-fledged stores, according to Simple Brands' summary.

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