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You're barcoded: The sneaky under-25 route to compulsory ID

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Comment There has been much tabloid fury about recent reports that two Royal Marines, just back from the front line in Afghanistan, were refused entry to a pub because they only had military ID. Is this just a storm in a pint glass, or evidence of yet more subtle pressure by Government to persuade all of us that ID cards would be a good idea?

According to JD Wetherspoon, owner of the pub in question, the only acceptable ID would have been passport, driving licence or UK citizen card.

Happily, Wetherspoon’s have now relented, and a spokesman for the chain told The Register yesterday that in future military ID will be accepted.

This echoes an increasing trend by pubs, clubs and retailers to crack down on "underage" activity in two distinct ways. First, many clubs now operate an official bar on anyone under 21 – or in the case of one Nottingham club, under 25.

Second, even where individuals are not actually barred from premises or not allowed to purchase items, there is a vastly increased use of "Challenge 21" or even "Challenge 25" policies.

A spokeswoman for Asda explained their "Challenge 25" policy. She said in an email to us: "[This] will force all those over 18 but under 25 to carry photo ID (so driver's licence or passport) if they wish to purchase alcohol. The new threshold is also designed to assist efforts to combat proxy purchase – where young adults purchase alcohol on behalf of underage friends.

"We also have a Challenge 25 policy on knives."

Tesco is not quite so Draconian – yet. Its policy is to maintain a nationwide "Challenge 21" approach. However, a spokesman told us: "If local circumstances merit it, individual store managers do have the discretion to apply a "Challenge 25" policy."

As with Asda, the list of documents permitted is restricted to driving licence, passport and some proof of age cards.

The last year has seen increasing attempts to put in place online age verification: for films and games, by the BBFC, and for purchasing of knives and other forbidden products according to a proposed ten-minute rule Bill introduced to Parliament by Labour MP Margaret Moran.

A part of this pressure is undoubtedly societal. All those we have spoken too talked about how undesirable it is for young people to be buying "banned substances" and how "most people" would surely be happy to put up with a little inconvenience in return for greater law and order. The idea that a 30-year-old woman may be refused a purchase because she appears underage is considered a positive thing.

Yet more pressure was added this week, with the publication of Government advice suggesting that on health grounds, young people should consume no alcohol at all.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium sees this as mostly to do with society evolving: many issues that were ignored ten years ago are now on the public agenda, so this is no more than a natural progression.

However, both the Beer and Pub Association and the Association of Convenience Stores saw the issue as a pincer movement. There was pressure from politicians through public pronouncements and discussions with the retail trade and landlords to clamp down on underage sales; and in parallel with that, far greater penalties for those who breach the law, through the Licensing Act 2003 and subsequent legislation.

Not only are penalties harsher - individuals are now targeted as well as companies. In the past, the focus for prosecution may have been the retailer or pub landlord, but now it may just as easily be the individual making the sale.

Shane Brennan, Public Affairs Director for the Association of Convenience Stores, sees this as the result of a growing public concern over underage abuse of a range of items such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling. However, he feels that government has taken the easy route, preferring to penalise the supplier, while doing little to clamp down on those breaking the law by making illicit purchases.

He added: "I wouldn’t make the direct link to ID cards. Tackling supply is an easy position to take - going for the causes is much harder."

He may be right. Our growing dependency on formal ID for those under 25 wishing to purchase an ever-lengthening list of regulated items is no more than coincidence. But for a government wedded to the idea of compulsory ID for all, it is a very happy coincidence indeed. ®

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