Imagine you walk into your favorite craft brewery to stock up on a couple of growlers for the weekend. After processing your purchase, the clerk does something unexpected: he asks for your name, address, phone number, and age. It would be only natural to be taken aback at this invasion of privacy, but it’s exactly what the state of Alabama is demanding some brewers do.
A newly proposed regulation would seriously compromise the privacy of craft beer consumers, as well as place a totally unnecessary burden on craft brewers. The rule would require that brewers collect all kinds of personal information from anyone who buys their beer at the brewery to consume at home.
The most obvious response to this is: Why? What reason could the state possibly have for wanting this data? The answer likely has to do with a recent law that allowed small breweries to sell beer to-go for their customers. While permitting the previously illegal sales, the law imposes a restriction of 288 ounces per customer per day, a restriction that doesn’t exist for other types of beer retailers. Although the agency in charge of these regulations has been tight-lipped about their motivations, they presumably intend to track purchasers as a means of enforcing the law.
It’s easy to dream up plenty of unlikely scenarios in which SWAT teams invade people’s homes demanding proof that the amount purchased was under the legal limit. Far more likely, however, is that this regulation is just another product of government ineptitude. After all, any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
Data collection is a necessary component of central planning, and for this reason alone we should resist attempts to collect it as much as possible. To the bureaucrat who has dreams of constructing a perfect society through the clever manipulation of tax rates, fines, prohibitions, and “nudge” economics, data is absolutely essential. After all, government can’t force people to change their behaviors if they don’t know who those people, and how they are currently behaving. And they can’t stop people from buying beer unless they keep tabs on who is doing the buying. In this way, privacy is absolutely inseparable from liberty.
Now that we’ve dealt with the evils of data-driven government in general, let’s take a look at what the practical effect of this rule is likely to be. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t want to give your address out to just anyone. You would probably resent being asked when all you were trying to do is stock up on cold brews for the weekend, and there’s a good chance being forced to hand over that information would deter you from even making the purchase at all. After all, there are plenty of other ways to buy beer. You could get it from a supermarket, a liquor store, or even drink in a restaurant or a bar, all without having to surrender your personal information.
It’s reasonable to assume that some people, at least, will choose this alternate route, which means that craft breweries will lose customers and consequently suffer for want of business. Some will probably have to shut down entirely as their customers refuse to give up their privacy in exchange for beer. In this way, the rule is top down redistribution of business from small, independent breweries, to the big producers who can afford wider distribution for their wares, who have no data collection requirements, and who are not restricted to selling 288 ounces.
One of the most commonly held misconceptions about government is that it exists to protect the weak from the strong. But if you look closely at almost any regulation, you’ll find that the opposite is the case. Whether or not Alabama’s regulators are intending to hurt craft brewers, or whether they genuinely can’t think of any way to enforce the law without these gross invasions of privacy, one thing remains clear: Beer is freedom, and we have to keep working to protect it.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.