With physical IDs failing us, States must act to legalize digital ids before it is too late

Mallory Beach was a 19 young woman from South Carolina with her whole life in front of her. Tragically in 2019 she was killed in a boating accident, caused by an underage drinker, whose blood alcohol level was over three times the limit in South Carolina.

The underage drinker purchased his alcohol at a convenience store and did shots at several South Carolina bars. The South Carolina alcohol agency did not cite the convenience store clerk with a violation. The convenience store clerk sold to a customer that presented her a validly issued state id, a South Carolina driver’s license and the clerk scanned the license.

The validly issued license that was presented, was the license of the underage drinker’s brother, who was a couple of years older and had similar physical features.

The fact that the alcohol-enforcement agency did not cite the convenience store clerk with a violation, will not bring Mallory Beach back to life nor is it any consolation for her family.

As state regulators and interested members of the industry, our goal should be to reduce as close to zero instances which caused Mallory Beach’s life. We cannot eliminate 100% of tragedies, but at the same time, we shouldn’t let a tragedy pass without trying to come up with better solutions.

The physical id process has its serious flaws and we must examine its usefulness. In the South Carolina situation, the older brother provided the younger brother his driver’s license to go drink with. Maybe he leant it to him for the night, or maybe he acted like he lost his id, went to the driver’s license facility got a new license and handed the old license off to his brother. In this situation, you will have the underage drinker going around with a validly issued id, which makes it easier to purchase alcohol.

Even without this situation, the physical ids are being counterfeited and replicated. Which makes it easier for underage drinkers to purchase alcohol.

What is the solution?

So, what is the solution?

In my mind, digital ids are the best solution to minimizing these problems.

Recently, Arizona adopted the Apple digital id.  Under this process, someone takes a picture of the back and front of their state issued driver’s license, and then takes a selfie. Through facial recognition technology, the app will approve or disapprove the match. If approved, the license will be tied to the phone.

So, let’s compare the digital and physical ids to the South Carolina situation. If there was a digital id, older brother couldn’t go to the driver’s license facility ask for a new license, and provide his underage brother the discarded id. Second, it is a lot less likely that older brother would give younger brother his phone to go out drinking with versus his license.

These days everyone’s phone is crucial to their life and they generally need their phone all the time, unlike their license, which people utilize in specific situations.

There have been arguments made that the digital id could open us up to more situations of data harvesting and less privacy because we could leave a digital footprint.

But I think this misses the reality of what is happening today. In a bar, a creepy bouncer could scan a driver’s license of a young woman and have her age and home address. Under the digital id, it will show that the person is over 21 and preclude them from exposing other sensitive data.

What the states need to do

In many states if not all, the law requires that someone present a government issued document to verify they are over the age of 21 years old. Unfortunately, a digital id is probably not considered a document. Without changing many state statutes, the digital ID, although cutting down the chances of tragedy, may not be legally operative.

Many states could change their policies by regulation or administrative order, but often times this is difficult when state statute does not support this change. Or many states could adopt a process similar to Arizona and roll it out.

Problematically, even with the rollouts, states move slow, and it could conceivably take years for a digital roll out to occur in all the states.

Technology has proven that it can take care of a lot of problems in life. Physical ids are a problem and the transition to digital ids should begin in earnest. In my tax world days, I began in the hard copy filing of returns world, and then by the end everything was efiled. In the liquor world, license filing went from hard to electronic filing. The fact is transitions happen and people will take to a new way of life.

The big question is, will states do their part to move forward rapidly or let the process play out slowly and methodically?


As I prepared earlier this month to speak on an NCSLA panel about digital Ids, I came across the story about Allison Beach in a Wall Street Journal article. And sometimes stuff really affects you, I can’t stop thinking about how tragic and senseless Allison Beach’s death was. She seemed like a wonderful young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

I think we owe it to her and others that deaths that could have been prevented to change the status quo and we must act quickly, instead of discovering reasons why this couldn’t happen.

We can’t be perfect in life, but we can do our best. As members of the liquor industry, that is what we owe society.