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In the UK, self-service checkouts can sell alcohol, but the transaction must be approved by a human - at least, in all the supermarkets I've seen.

Is it possible to do this without human approval and still be legal?

I'm a personal license holder, so I've some familiarity with the law. Each sale must be authorised by the license holder - but this authority can be delegated. Also, whoever is making the sale must check the person is of age, not drunk, and there's a couple of other subtleties. What I don't know is how exactly this could be interpreted.

A self-service checkout can do an ID check - perhaps you need manual verification for your first purchase, and using the same credit card in future allows automatic approval. Checking for drunk customers is harder, but perhaps the store could have a blanket "no drunks in store" policy.

Is there any history of any store trying this? Is it legally a non-starter?

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    What happens if the credit card is used by a minor? Or the ID is stolen/fake? You would require a database of identities accessible nationwide to public entities, and the ability to confirm those identities biometrically. There's the issue of BAC measurement, even police need a blood test to be sure of that, breathalysers aren't reliable enough. It's practically a non-starter, and legally I doubt the authority can be delegated to automation anyway. – Nij Nov 21 '17 at 19:09
  • How would the self-checkout attempt to figure out if you're buying the alcohol not for you, but for the 15-year-old standing right next to you? Humans can pretty often pick up on that...machines are nowhere close yet. – cHao Nov 21 '17 at 19:09
  • @Nij - While all these comments are valid, I think a lot of them apply to human-authorised sales as well. Certainly a blood test is not required to purchase alcohol. – paj28 Nov 22 '17 at 4:28
  • @cHao - Sure, a machine couldn't detect it. Some store keepers are good at noticing that. Assistants in large supermarkets - I'm not so sure. Perhaps it would be enough to display a prominent reminder that it's illegal to proxy purchase. – paj28 Nov 22 '17 at 4:30
  • "Each sale must be authorised by the license holder - but this authority can be delegated". My layman understanding of law says you cannot delegate to a machine to perform authorisation. So the task of authorising still rests with the license holder. The issue then becomes if you have performed the authotisations with enough diligence if you leave this to the machine. Look at the requirements what constitutes an authorisation, the steps that must be taken when authorising a sale. And then see if it is possible for a machine to do that. – MichaelK Nov 22 '17 at 10:15
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As long as you are happy to allow the machine to make the determination then you could allow it to sell alcohol on your licence. It would be no different to, say, scanning an ID card for validation.

You are responsible for ensuring that proper checks are made. How those checks are made is up to you, and you are responsible if they fail.

A related example would be age validation by credit card check for web site access. Verification has been delegated to the server doing a database lookup to confirm the identity of the cardholder, who the bank should have checked was at least 18. A human is not involved in the process.

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A vending machine of this type was proposed and reported upon by the BBC this summer. It isn't clear if it has actually been approved by sale by English officials in charge of alcohol regulation.

  • Thanks, this was exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for. Looks like biometric authentication is a must. They didn't seem to have an intoxication test, but maybe that's not in local laws. – paj28 Nov 22 '17 at 4:41

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