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PENNSYLVANIA State keeps data on liquor buys



Published: Sun, April 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Opponents say what we drink is a private matter.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Do you remember what you bought the last time you got "carded" at a wine and spirits shop in Pennsylvania?

Well, chances are state officials do -- and they might share that information with law enforcement.

It's a little-known practice that some fear violates the privacy and due process rights of customers, who have no choice in Pennsylvania but to buy wine and liquor from the state.

Donna Pinkham, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, confirmed Wednesday that the agency keeps data on the liquor purchases of anyone who is asked to show a photo ID at any of the state's 638 Wine and Spirits shops.

That data is kept for seven years, Pinkham said, and is sometimes turned over to law enforcement agencies.

That concerns Stefan Presser, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who said it might violate both equal protection and privacy rights.

"First, they make an arbitrary decision to card me; it's whatever the gut sense is," Presser said.

"And notwithstanding the fact that they got it wrong -- that I am legally entitled to purchase alcohol -- you're now saying they're going to keep a record on me? What's the point? What's the legitimate governmental purpose? I think there's a potential privacy violation here."

Thinking behind this

Pinkham said there were two reasons for keeping those records. First, if a minor were to use someone else's license to buy alcohol, the record would show whether the liquor store had properly checked ID. Second, it would provide a paper trail if someone were found to have illegally given alcohol to minors.

Pinkham said law enforcement agencies request such records from PLCB about 20 times per year.

Anthony L. Liuzzo, an attorney and business professor at Wilkes University, said the state might have an interest in verifying photo IDs and reducing underage drinking, but that might not necessarily justify keeping such detailed records.

"What right does the state of Pennsylvania, or any state for that matter, have to know what kinds of liquors I'm drinking, what kinds of wines I'm drinking, and so on?" Liuzzo said.

"From a constitutional point of view -- and I'm not a constitutional law expert -- the courts ... are going to weight the benefits to the state of having this information vs. the impact on privacy."




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