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Opinion: Self-checkouts guard against, not enable, minors purchasing alcohol

California is where ideas are born, grow and change the world. Our technology industry leads the world and serves as a critical economic driver to our state. We are the state that invents and develops technology, we should be the state that uses it, too.

Among the many bills Gov.  Jerry Brown will be considering between now and Oct. 9, is a particularly misguided piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 183, which proposes to ban the use of a prevalent, modern, time-saving technology, namely, self-check outs. The bill would prevent the use of self-check outs for purchasing alcohol in grocery stores.  While noble in its stated goal of curbing underage drinking, the bill’s remedies couldn’t be more wrong.

Let’s be clear – we are all in favor of keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors. That goes without question. What we, as the technology industry, question are the methods this bill is proposing and whether proper consideration has been given to the serious ramifications if the bill were to be signed into law.

Technological innovation drives economic growth in our state, including self-service technologies. Many California businesses have turned to these self-service technologies to improve operations and to provide efficient and high quality service to consumers. While some see these self-check out kiosk – inaccurately – as a gateway to illegal behavior, the majority of Californians see them as a way to save time and ease our trips to the store.

The arguments in favor of this bill don’t hold water. There is no proven connection linking self-check-out with the increased sale of alcohol to minors (as stated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control). The reality is that self-service adds an extra hurdle to purchasing alcoholic beverages by under-age consumers.

Self-check out terminals involve multiple layers of safety protocols, both technological and human, to prevent alcoholic beverages from being purchased by a minor. Sophisticated security software is installed to prevent a minor from scanning a non-alcoholic item and then replacing it with an alcoholic one.

The store employees that oversee self-service terminals are required to abide by the same laws as those who assist at regular check out lines. They are all required to verify the age of all people purchasing alcohol. An employee who is willing to skirt the law will be willing to do so whether they are overseeing a self-check out kiosk or scanning groceries in a check out line.  A minor who is willing to break the law is going to attempt to do so regardless of the type of checkout as well.

California should not venture down the path of banning a proven and popular technology in an attempt to limit behavior.

In reality, this bill is a solution in search of a problem, which would have the practical effect of substantially restricting the use of a specific technology in California without justification.  In a broader sense, the bill presents a deeper concern regarding California’s image as the state of innovation.  This technology was developed in response to consumer demand and provides an innovative, secure solution to improving consumers’ shopping experience, one that creates efficiency and convenience for customers as well as the retail industry.  For California to impose seemingly arbitrary restrictions on its use, presents a concerning precedent.  

If this is where we start, where do we end? Will people think twice about creating, building and introducing a new and innovative product in California?

Our state is at the heart of the technology sector in this country. Legislation that blames technology for the actions of humans undermines the very industry that will lead our state out of the current economic slump.

We can’t afford to send this vital industry sector any signal that would suggest California is not the place to develop and implement technology; that Californians should refrain from developing new technologies and remain stagnant in the face of innovation simply because a group of well-intentioned people seek to ban a technology to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.  

This approach has been rejected twice before and we ask for the governor’s sound judgment in doing so again. It just makes sense.


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