A (mostly) victory when it comes to Alabama spying on your beer habits

September 30, 2016 | By ANASTASIA BODEN

Yesterday the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board decided against adopting a creepy rule which would have required craft breweries to record the names, phone numbers, addresses, and birthdays of anyone who purchases craft beer for carryout.  As I detailed in this comment letter and this Forbes piece, the proposed rule was a burdensome and invasive regulation, which would have made it more difficult for craft breweries to compete with other, bigger beer purveyors.  It would have created a logistical predicament for craft brewers, and a privacy dilemma for consumers.

There was no good reason for this rule.  As I wrote to the ABC Board:

[A]ny public benefits are doubtful. While ABC has not stated its rationale for the proposed rule, some have surmised that the rule will be used to enforce the volume limits on sales. Collecting private information is a particularly invasive way to go about that goal, especially when compared to other industries that have limitations on purchases, but lack an analogous requirement. For example, states do not require tobacco vendors to obtain the names and addresses of anyone who buys cigarettes, even though vendors cannot sell to children. … States that ban ticket scalping do not require venues to record the information of the primary buyers.

Perhaps most relevant here, Alabama does not require non-craft restaurants or bars to collect and maintain the personal information of their customers, even though those establishments can only sell to someone who is over 21, and to someone who is not already intoxicated. … Instead [of requiring sellers to collect personal information of consumers], states typically rely on sellers to obey the law, and use normal enforcement mechanisms, like investigations, to find violations. The proposed rule treats beer like pseudoephedrinean — an over-the-counter drug that has purchase limits. The government requires pharmacies to collect personal information from purchasers of pseudoephedrinean because of the drug’s relationship to methamphetamine production. Not since Prohibition has buying beer been considered so vile.

While the ABC Board rejected the proposed rule, it determined that state law still requires brewers to record the names and addresses of buyers.  In response, many pointed out that the law cited by the Board was intended to apply to manufacturers who sell to distributors, and has never been interpreted to require brewers to collect personal information of people who simply buy a few beers for later consumption.  If the Board does choose to enforce the requirement against breweries, state legislators have signaled their willingness to pass an amendment exempting craft breweries from the law.

For now, the decision was a victory—if a modest one—for privacy and economic liberty.  Because the issue got the attention of interested consumers and legislators, in the long run there will likely be no data collection requirement at all.