Automated age checks will be trialed at supermarket tills next month under government plans to curb underage drinking.
The Home Office believes the technology, which can reportedly estimate ages to within a year of accuracy, could eventually replace ID cards.
Along with preventing under-18s from buying alcohol, it could reduce retail crime, with shop workers often abused or assaulted when they check customer ages.
The system, created by digital identity startup Yoti, has already been used by the Post Office, police, NHS, NSPCC and social media.
It can be integrated into self-checkouts but is currently banned under UK licensing laws.
Shops are required by law to ensure no one under 18 buys alcohol, and to check ID where there is doubt.
Illegal sales carry a maximum penalty of up to six months in prison or a maximum fine of £5,000.
Yoti’s system will be tested in the Home Office’s “alcohol sandbox” if given the go-ahead by local licensing authorities and police.
Customers buying alcohol will have to consent to their picture being taken by a camera, although the firm claimed the image is automatically deleted and not shared with the retailer.
Yoti, last valued at £82 million, has been lobbying for a relaxation in UK licensing laws since at least last year.
In June 2020, it told the government its technology could prevent Covid-19 transmission by avoiding ID checks, cutting out up to 10 million “unnecessary close proximity touch points per week”.