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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.

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RE: Privacy?
By sviola on 5/28/2010 1:37:25 PM , Rating: -1
I don't see what is the problem with having to identify oneself when buying a pre-paid phone. You still don't get contracts, you get to use it as previously. No big a deal. It's just like buying a car. Don't you have to identify yourself? A car is a non-dangerous vehicle.

I live in a country that you have to identify yourself to get a phone and this has had no impact to people's lives.

About your netbook+wifi rant, unless all cities in US are covered by wifi networks, I find it very unlikely that a terrorist will use it as a mean to coordinate an attack (imagine someone typing directions to a bomb site while going to it? doesn't sound plausible to me).

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... =/

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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