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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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What about us legals?
By littvay on 5/29/2010 9:11:37 PM , Rating: 1
Reading the comments the following thoughts went through my mind:

- Could someone talk about the article?
- Eyes rolled
- More eyes rolling
- Finally someone read the article
- ... but still they don't get it
- What a bunch of f#$@ing...
- Does anyone reading this every travel anywhere?
- Ugh...

Let me explain:

I am from Europe (ya know, the continent to the right on most maps where the countries are smaller then most of your states with 3 electors). And now I am officially an immigrant. A legal one. Before I was an immigrant I was a Student on J1 and F1 Visas. I never spent a day illegally in the US. I did manage to pick up a high school diploma, a BSBA, an MA a PhD (these two in political science - add the idiotic discourse up front and the immigrant hating makes me want to puke) and another MS before I ever picked up a US ID.

Now my question is the following: what kind of ID will be required? Because most of the idiots working at AT&T, Verizon, etc. (much like the people commenting here) have never seen a passport. They also might be troubled by the lack of an official address on a passport. And you know who else needs these pre-paid services? People who travel internationally (as most of you obviously don't).

It is bad enough that you guys can't agree on a phone standard (or a measurement standard) with the rest of the world. AT&T and T-Mobile chips do work in unlocked EU phones (most of the time). Though neither of these companies have the decency to sell pre-paid (non-month to month as most travelers do not travel for months) pre-paid plans with data. I travel back and forth a lot. Most recently I spent more time in Europe. So I am not paying for a contract. End of story. I bough a smart phone at full price and I really could use some data. And why neither companies are willing to sell it to me at the usual @s$-rape rates is beyond me. AT&T told me some bullshit about, ohhh, iPhone, that needs iPhone data. No dip$hits, I need INTERNET. Not iPhone Internet.

So I am really pleased to hear about the prospects of the future. I am all for anti-terrorism. I am willing to show my passport to anyone selling me a phone. But please train your damn employes and please make the pre-paid accessible to this large segment of people who need it. Lately it seems that all people care about is themselves can have and what illegals can have. Move out of the little worlds in your head please and start thinking. And to quote Jay Lenno: "The good news is, all the illegals have left the country. The bad news is that now a head of lettuce is $47." Now think about that for a second. I also welcome anyone to join the chicken processing industry for a few hours before they bitch about them illegals. Yes, they are a problem. But the solution is amnesty and easy access to seasonal work. One of the only sensible plans Bush had. Too bad the idiots in his party killed it.

RE: What about us legals?
By leuNam on 5/30/2010 12:29:31 PM , Rating: 2
3 seconds is all i need...sheesh, if you have ID then bear with it, if not...STFU

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