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Getting Defensive

A bill being reviewed by Connecticut Gov. John Rowland could
curb the ability of someone under 18 to get cigarettes, while giving convenience store retailers an affirmative defense if an underage sale is made. It also applies to alcohol, for which the legal purchase age is 21.

Sales clerks would be permitted to use devices that scan bar codes or magnetic strips on photo IDs, and even take a photo of an ID and of the person who presents it. The idea is the clerk would, for the first time, have a record of the transaction that proves to police he asked for an ID. The devices can ferret out a fake ID by scanning information embedded in a bar code, according to the Danbury News-Times.

Included in the bill is language that would allow the transaction device to be used as a defense against any criminal charges resulting from the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors. To use the defense, the seller must prove that the buyer presented ID and that the scan of the ID showed it was valid. In other words, it wouldn't be the storeowner's fault if the scan verified the ID.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. David Cappiello (R-Danbury) permits but does not require the devices. The proposal won legislative approval in the state Senate. The legislation comes in a year when most bills to directly restrict smoking are all but snuffed out, the report said.

"This bill will allow businesses to take advantage of a new way to protect our children from the dangers of these products," said Cappiello. But it will cost them a fair penny to do it.

For about $1,000, ID CAM Systems Inc. offers equipment that scans bar codes or magnetic strips on licenses or other IDs telling the clerk whether it is real or not. The information stored on the bar code or magnetic strip reveals whether the ID is legitimate.

For about $2,500, a store can add a device that photographs an ID. For a couple of hundred more dollars, a small, swiveling video camera will capture the image of the person who offers the ID. The information is displayed on a screen for the clerk.
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