Print 56 comment(s) - last by 666.. on Jun 1 at 12:07 AM

Faisal Shahzad, who attempted a bombing in Times Square, reportedly used prepaid cell phones to disguise his purchases. The government is moving to block the sales of prepaid cell phones without ID.  (Source: Personal Photo via CBS)
New bill will mandate ID at location of sale

Getting an anonymous prepaid phone may get a lot harder in the U.S.  A new bill introduced by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) would require buyers of prepaid cell phones to show ID at the point of purchase, and would require phone companies to store this info for law enforcement purposes.

The move comes after the revelation that the terrorism suspect involved in the attempted bombing in New York City's Times Square used an anonymous prepaid cell phone to disguise his identity when purchasing loads of highly explosive M-88 Fireworks and a Nissan Pathfinder.  Commonly, such purchases would alert the FBI and allow the individual involved to be tracked.  In this case, though, the anonymous handset covered the terrorism suspect's tracks.

Schumer describes, "We caught a break in catching the Times Square terrorist, but usually a prepaid cell phone is a dead end for law enforcement. There’s no reason why it should still be this easy for terror plotters to cover their tracks"

Prepaid cell phones have also been commonly used by mobsters and drug dealers.  And Schumer/Cornyn add, "In 2009 [prepaid cell phones] were even used by hedge fund managers and Wall Street executives implicated in the largest insider trading bust in US history. In court papers, federal prosecutors detailed how traders from the Galleon Group hedge fund communicated with other executives through prepaid phones in order to try to evade potential wiretaps. In one instance, one suspect is described as having chewed the Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM card, until it snapped in half in order to destroy possible evidence."

You can currently freely pick up prepaid phones from a variety of major retailers, gas stations, and small shops -- all without any credit checks or identification information.  The issue of such anonymous sales is an international one which has seen much recent debate.  Simon Fraser University in 2005 led a study [PDF] financed by the Canadian Federal government that found that 9 of 24 industrialized nations had such restrictions on purchases.

Currently a number of states have similar laws, including Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina.  However, according to Schumer, "[I]n light of the increased reliance of terrorists on the devices, it was time for a federal response."

Advocates of the phones worry that requiring ID info may make it harder for low income families to purchase prepaid phones, one of the key groups who uses the devices legitimately.  They also worry about potential discrimination and/or actions against unauthorized immigrants from Mexico or elsewhere.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By UNHchabo on 5/28/2010 12:33:30 PM , Rating: 3
Some of us like to buy pre-paid phones because we don't like contracts from phone companies. Incidentally, some of us also don't like having our ID photocopied when buying something as non-dangerous as a communication device.

Guess what? I can walk into Best Buy or Walmart, buy a netbook with $200 cash, then walk down to Starbucks and use their free Wifi to communicate with the world, no ID required!

Someone close this loophole before it's too late! We must require ID to be shown whenever a communications device is sold, or the terrorists win! Among the items to be restricted: Computers, wireless routers, walkie-talkies, and "home terrorist communication kits" that come with two paper cups and a piece of string.

RE: Privacy?
By rcc on 5/28/2010 1:05:04 PM , Rating: 2
Personally, I'm in favor of the terrorist tax.

That is, we charge a high import tariff on all arriving terrorists. Thus funding all the country's anti-terrorist activities from the very people that create the need.

And, if we make the tariff high enough, perhaps they'll just take their business elsewhere!

/remove tongue from cheek

RE: Privacy?
By sviola on 5/28/10, Rating: -1
RE: Privacy?
By fic2 on 5/28/2010 1:57:02 PM , Rating: 2
A car is a non-dangerous vehicle? Really? Thousands of people are killed by cars every year.

All cities in the U.S. have at least 47 starbucks. Mandatory by law. So all cities have wifi.

I can imagine a terrorist using google maps or a gps to get to a site. Doesn't take typing directions. Just following the provided directions.

I would also think that most attacks are coordinated hours if not days in advance and not in real-time like you are suggesting.

RE: Privacy?
By UNHchabo on 5/28/2010 3:59:37 PM , Rating: 2
It's just like buying a car. Don't you have to identify yourself? A car is a non-dangerous vehicle.

If you buy a used car, you can pay cash, and not have any credit checks or ID checks required. You only need to register a car, or obtain a driver's license, if you're going to be driving on state-funded roads, and that's mainly because of the danger and liability involved with driving. You don't need an ID to simply use most state-funded facilities. A police officer cannot require me to hand over my ID if I'm calmly sitting on a park bench, despite that bench being funded by taxpayer money.

RE: Privacy?
By LordanSS on 5/28/2010 5:26:23 PM , Rating: 1
A police officer cannot require me to hand over my ID if I'm calmly sitting on a park bench, despite that bench being funded by taxpayer money.

It seems that's relative, these days... =/

RE: Privacy?
By vtohthree on 5/28/2010 2:23:24 PM , Rating: 3
The terrorists are screwing it up for all of us, we're losing our privileges by the day because of them, it pisses me off.

The airport body scans, telephones, etc.

RE: Privacy?
By ClownPuncher on 5/28/2010 2:43:56 PM , Rating: 2
Kind of exactly what they want, changing the west into a more fundamental police state. It isn't the terrorists that are doing it, it is our knee-jerk reactions.

RE: Privacy?
By vapore0n on 5/28/2010 2:41:04 PM , Rating: 2
You are a moron. A phone, just like a computer, can allow anonymous communications between terrorist parties. I'm surprised it even took this long to close the anonymous out of contract phone loop given how popular they are in all movies.

I'm all for starbucks giving away free wifi, but if I were the one in charge Id make it mandatory to sign a waiver and provide valid ID before id give anyone.

You can still get into any phone service without contract. It will just cost you as much as what phone you pick.

RE: Privacy?
By UNHchabo on 5/28/2010 5:07:29 PM , Rating: 2
I'm all for starbucks giving away free wifi, but if I were the one in charge Id make it mandatory to sign a waiver and provide valid ID before id give anyone.

Then you may as well not offer Wifi service, because nobody will use it. You'll end up losing customers to other coffee shops that don't require permanently giving away personal information in order to access the internet.

How exactly would you plan on implementing it? Do you photocopy the driver's license of someone who wants to use it, then copy down their MAC address? That's the only way you'll be able to trace back illegal activity to any one user.

My main point is this: just because a communications medium can be used by terrorists to plan activities, this does not give the federal government to regulate or track who can use that medium.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki