Retailers scanning drivers licenses raises privacy issues

If you buy cigarettes, beer, and some over-the-counter drugs, retailers are charged with making sure you are of age to do so. They ask for your driver's license to verify your age then hand it back to you. Well, you are most likely going to see retailers take it a step further now — scanning your ID and possibly storing the information.

Angela Christensen was asked for her ID recently for a purchase. 

"They started scanning my driver’s license to buy a pack of cigarettes, and I kinda felt like that was a little bit of an invasion of my privacy," Christensen said.

She tells the FOX 5 I-Team she was at this Villa Rica Dollar General, but it’s a practice being used more often by many retailers. And it bothers her. 

"I think that’s too much information," she told me. 

According to the Georgia Department of Drivers Services, the barcode on the back of your driver’s license - the one that retailers swipe - contains all the information that’s on the front of your ID: name, address, age, and your physical description.

Information on the front of your Georgia driver's license is embedded in the barcode on the back. 

Denish Shah, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia State University said, "All of that information gets transferred to the retailer’s system. So, the question is, does the retailer really need the information and the answer is mostly likely no."

He points out that this potentially stored information raises three questions. Is the information secure? Will the cardholder be notified if there is a data breach? And what does the retailer plan to do with that valuable information?

The FOX 5 I-Team reached out to Dollar General’s corporate headquarters.

"Dollar General is committed to meeting or exceeding state regulation and industry expectations when selling age-restricted products in our stores. To ensure we sell products including alcohol and tobacco in a safe and responsible manner, our stores are now verifying customers’ age by scanning drivers licenses. Our system uses the barcode solely to validate a customer’s date of birth.  No other personal information is obtained [or stored]." 

Some states have what are called swiping laws.

"That really clearly laid out how many days retailers could store that information. They had to store if for X number of days then they had to delete it," Mr. Denish noted. 

Georgia has a law, but it does not go that deep. It only requires that the customer be told the ID will be swiped, and the information is to be used for legitimate purposes only.

Still, Angela Christensen is not comfortable with any of this yet.

"They don’t need to know anything but my birth date."

This is interesting to note: The airport, one of the places most interested in security, does verify identity by looking at your driver's license. But, they don’t scan in the information. They look at the ID, look at you, then hand it back.

Lastly, according to the Georgia Consumer Protection Division, a retailer must ask you before it swipes. You must grant permission.