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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 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
quote:
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.


"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain














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