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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: Yeah, That'll do it
By fic2 on 5/28/2010 2:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
There have been several terrorist attacks on the U.S. since 9/11. But only one that I can remember has been successful - the guy in San Antonio. The rest have failed. Not because of anything that congress or TSA or homeland security or anything else gov't. But because the terrorist were more incompetent than the gov't agencies. That in itself is a pretty mean feat.

RE: Yeah, That'll do it
By ZachDontScare on 5/28/2010 2:36:25 PM , Rating: 2
There have actually been a number of shootings which you can probably call 'terrorist' acts since 9/11, including Ft Hood, a shooting at LAX (or one of the CA airports), and the Utah mall shooting (the shooter was a kosovar with family ties to known terrorists). There was also a suicide bomber in Oklahoma or Nebraska, at a football game. Not sure if that was terrorism per se, but the guy who did it was a islamic convert. Also, the millenium bomber was caught by an alert border official.

The guy with a plane in austin was not a terrorist... not by the traditional definition. He was specifically targeting an agency he believed had done him wrong. He wasnt trying to coerce or terrorize a population, he was trying to kill people connected to the IRS.

Now, yes, the guy in times square was incompetent. I mean, really suprisingly stupid given his educational background. But to be fair, the car was spotted by a street vendor who specifically mentioned the 'if you see something, say something' programs he's seen in NYC as the reason he reported it. So you cant say the govt wasnt at least partially responsible for discovering the vehicle.

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