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Cellphones Privacy Government Politics Your Rights Online

Proposed Law Would Require ID To Buy Prepaid Phones 615

Posted by timothy
from the stamps-too-because-of-ransom-notes dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) have introduced legislation that would require buyers to present identification when purchasing a prepaid cellphone and require phone companies to keep the information on file, as they do with users of landline phones and subscription-based cellphones. 'This proposal is overdue because for years, terrorists, drug kingpins, and gang members have stayed one step ahead of the law by using prepaid phones that are hard to trace,' says Schumer. Civil liberties advocates have concerns about the proposal, saying there must be a role for anonymous communications in a free society, adding that the space for such anonymous or pseudonymous communications has been narrowed since pay phones, for example, have largely disappeared."
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Proposed Law Would Require ID To Buy Prepaid Phones

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  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:3, Informative)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:43PM (#32365886) Journal

    I don't get it. are you saying you can't do it now??

    Here's how you do it: it's called go through the court system as you should.

  • by Mex (191941) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:45PM (#32365922)

    This law was passed in Mexico a few months ago. It's basically a failure because of all the fake IDs out there. There's very little preventing you from registering it to someone else's name too.

    To send a message to the president Felipe Calderon, a lot of people registered using his personal data.

    A few days ago, one of the phone companies admitted they had at least 12,000 cell phones registered to the president's name...

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:47PM (#32365970) Journal

    It will be justified under the 'interstate commerce' clause, the catch all used to justify everything from compelling Americans to buy health insurance to telling them that they can't set dried up bits of cannabis on fire and inhale the resulting smoke into their lungs. Any pretense of a limitation on Federal power died when SCOTUS said that the Federal Government has the power [wikipedia.org] to prevent you from growing food for your own consumption.

    I'm rather pessimistic about our chances of reversing this trend, absent a constitutional convention and/or revolution, neither of which will happen because both would require Americans to stop watching TV long enough to realize how many rights they are losing.

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:50PM (#32366018) Journal

    You realize this legislation has support from no less a Democrat than Charles Schumer, right? You didn't even have to RTFA, it's right there in the summary.

    When it comes to taking away our rights and expanding Government, Democrats and Republicans aren't really all that different. The only difference is which order you lose your rights in.

  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:56PM (#32366148) Homepage

    Ok. This new "law" would simply create a new black market for thieves. Increasing their profit streams.

    Now instead of a walmart tracphone. you buy a "clean" prepaid phone from vito that is registered to a 14 year old cheerleader in the hamptons.

    Honestly, are out lawmakers simply a bunch of retarded old idiots? Did they not think of this?

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:58PM (#32366180) Homepage

    It's more insidious than that. Who buys the prepaids? poor people.

    So it's all about tracking the poor.

  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:2, Informative)

    by somersault (912633) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:03PM (#32366274) Homepage Journal

    I'm surprised they've been allowing it for this long. I had to sign up to get a pre-paid phone ~6 years ago here in the UK. I thought it would be the same everywhere else, otherwise you could use them for very anonymous communication, perfect for criminal activity..

  • by dmesg0 (1342071) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:11PM (#32366436)

    In Italy you have to present your ID even when in internet cafes. It will be photocopied and kept forever along with your IP. And there is no open Wi-Fi anywhere, because any internet user must be identified (there are free hotspots that require your local GSM number and verify it by sending you a code).

    Of course you can't buy any prepaid SIM without your ID or passport (and often fiscal code).

    I guess USA is slowly getting there too.

  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eric Smith (4379) <eric&brouhaha,com> on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:12PM (#32366462) Homepage Journal
    Yes, and I'm certain that drug kingpins would buy the cellphone with their own, entirely legitimate photo ID.

    Contrary to what the Senators are saying, this bill has NOTHING to do with catching drug kingpins, and everything to do with advancing the surveillance state.

  • by IANAAC (692242) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:13PM (#32366474)

    All carriers require an ID to obtain a prepaid. The system will not allow the person to put anything in

    Last year I bought a cheap 15 dollar Tracfone and activated it without a stitch of ID in rural Wisconsin. Plunked down the money and walked out of the Radio Shack with a working, anonymous phone. Don't need any ID to renew minutes either. Each time I walk into a RS and buy a minutes card it extends the validity of the number for 90 more days.

  • The Wire (Score:5, Informative)

    by stimpleton (732392) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:24PM (#32366680)
    I have just finished watching The Wire [wikipedia.org] on DVD(A cop drama set in Baltimore).

    Not only do I rate this series as one of my top 5 dramas made globally, I think it is as significant for nerds as Star Trek.

    Cell phones play a key aspect of the story line over the 5 series from 2002 to 2008, and includes the formation of the Dept Home Land Security and the impact on the police team and how it helps there investigations(by season 3-4).

    The police efforts to track criminals and the criminals attempts to stay one step ahead is well dramatized.
  • Re:Burn Notice (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jeng (926980) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:33PM (#32366866)

    One of his clients gave him a box full of cell phones, forgot which episode.

  • by robot256 (1635039) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:36PM (#32366924)

    It's more insidious than that. Who buys the prepaids? poor people.

    So it's all about tracking the poor.

    I'm not poor, I'm frugal, you insensitive clod!

  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:39PM (#32366964) Journal

    assuming you overlook the glaring exception of the "Gun Show" loophole in many states.

    The "gun show loophole" actually isn't. It's more properly described as a "private party sale loophole". Any business engaged in the routine sale of firearms needs to perform background checks, regardless of where that sale takes place. If you buy a gun from "Gun Store, Inc." at a gun show you'll fill out the same background check paperwork as you would if you were in the store itself.

    Party party sales (i.e: I sell you one of my guns) aren't regulated in most states and don't require background checks. That's the loophole that people are referring to, but most of the anti-2A crowd won't call it a "private party loophole" because that doesn't conjure up scary images of unregulated gun shows.

  • Total bullshit. (Score:3, Informative)

    by moxley (895517) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:44PM (#32367040)

    If this has any chance of succeeding, (which I am sure it does) I will definitely have to stock up on pre-paid phones prior to the law going into effect.

    No, not because I want to do anything wrong, but because I want the option to be able to make anonymous phone calls whenever I feel like it -and with the way law enforcement operates it doesn;t matter if you've committed a crime or not, you can be jailed, beaten, strip searched - simply for asking a question or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I am well aware of the the capabilities of law enforcement, we're beyond triggerfish now - but there still is no technology that can pinpoint a phone with it's batteries removed. The best they could hope for is knowing where the phone was when a call was made.

  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Informative)

    by mdielmann (514750) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:16PM (#32367532) Homepage Journal

    The case you mention is a little disingenuous. He had no intention of consuming the wheat personally. He was feeding it to chickens. What I wonder is what he was doing with those chickens. If he was using them for personal consumption, I think he would have had an easier time, but I honestly don't know how many chicken can be fed on over 450 bushels of wheat per year (his quota and non-quota amount). It seems like a substantial amount to me.

    That said, artificial scarcity, government manipulation of markets, etc., etc. One more repercussion from a dubious decision.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:17PM (#32367560)
    One thing to take note of Charles Schumer is the third ranked Democrat in the Senate, which means that to a degree his position on laws represents the Democratic Party on those laws. John Cornyn is not part of the Republican Senate leadership in any way, which means that his position on laws for the most part represents only his constituents (and with the way things have been going lately, not necessarily even them).
    This is not to say that the Republican Party bosses would not support this bill, but the support of Republican Senator John Cornyn is not equivalent of the support of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
  • Also Mexico (Score:3, Informative)

    by Requiem18th (742389) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:00PM (#32368224)

    They're even shutting down prepaids unless they register, this, from the government that leaked the electoral records to organized crime.

  • by Stradivarius (7490) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:07PM (#32368326)

    This looks to me like just another case of politicians trying to protect their big contributors. Consider:

    The legislation's sponsors are from Texas (Cornyn) and New York (Schumer).

    AT&T is based in Texas. AT&T has given more political contributions than any other company [opensecrets.org]. Its current COO, and its former CEO, both donated [newsmeat.com] to Cornyn.

    Verizon is based in New York. Verizon is also on OpenSecret's heavy hitters list at the above link. Verizon's CEO unsurprisingly donated to Schumer [newsmeat.com].

    Boost (Sprint) is based in Kansas.

    Boost/Sprint has been the most aggressive [kansascity.com] in moving into prepaid phones, which often have lower costs than contract services. This threatens the incumbents: AT&T and Verizon each have about double Sprint's subscriber base, and thus have the most to lose from a shift towards prepaid.

    Increased surveillance rules remove prepaid's privacy benefits. And they impose record-keeping costs on prepaid services like Boost, making them less competitive with AT&T and Verizon's lucrative contract businesses.

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:26PM (#32368622)

    You don't have to back it up. It's just plain false.

    OK, I see your false and raise you a "your false is false." Or something.

    I use a prepaid service. "Unlimited" voice, text, and data is $50/month with all the taxes and fees and misc added in ~$57. To get the equivalent in a "contract" plan with the same carrier, it would cost me $80 + the fees and tax.

    There are also limited usage versions of the prepaid and contract plans, but in almost every case, the prepaid is cheaper. You have to buy a phone at "full price" if you go prepaid, but even if you buy it from the carrier, it's only $30-$200 more expensive, and you make that up in less than a year's worth of service.

    I'm sorry you can't find a deal like that in your area.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Informative)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @07:50PM (#32370772) Homepage Journal

    Can you set up a PO Box anonymously? Or have it delivered to a business with which you have an arrangement?

    Maybe. PO Box, not really. They now require a "permanent address", and I was asked for ID last time I got one.

    At one time, you could get a mailbox with any kind of address you wanted with one of the private mailbox places (like Mailboxes, Etc., for instance). In the name of fighting mail fraud, as of June 24, 2000 the USPS delivers only to CMRA (Commercial Mail Receiver Agents) customers who have filled out a new Form 1583 and produced two forms of identification, including a photo ID. Copies of each ID will be kept by the CMRA and the USPS. Customers using their boxes for business will have to provide home addresses and phone numbers, and the information will be made available to anyone for the asking.

    You'll be hard-pressed finding a business that will let you use them for a mail drop without following the rules above. Plus the USPS won't deliver anything there if it doesn't look like it's addressed to the business itself. And if the business thinks you may be getting contraband delivered, they won't touch it, because they can actually be held liable for mail fraud - a federal crime.

    The point is you CANNOT communicate anonymously - that's the ultimate goal. This is why I'm now skeptical about the push for "Network Neutrality". Is it just a bait-and-switch? It's sold as a constraint on carriers, but seems likely to end up being an excuse to track everyone's activity. After all, how do they make sure they're properly regulating the Internet "utilities" and "protecting the children" online unless they can do deep packet inspection on every transmission line, and know who is posting to message boards?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 27, 2010 @11:07PM (#32371996)

    That is an excellent point. Consider the difficulties trying to live "cash only."

    Currently I only know of one business that pays employees in cash - Waffle House. It's either that or:

    $8-10 fees to cash paychecks, including thumbprint identification. Even if the check is:

    DRAWN ON THAT BANK - to which they reply, we are not a check cashing service (?!?!?! are they that stupid?), but of course since the turrists happened, it's because it is now a matter of being a:

    National Security Issue to have a check cashed at a bank. Don't believe me? Read the sign near the teller on the end.

    Unless your bill is local, it is impossible to pay in cash, and even then often difficult. This can be gotten by:

    Buying a money order for $1.50

    I see what you are saying, but I'd say it is less a matter of being an ATM to the government, and more a matter of tracking and control, as evidence by the FTA in the very beginning. There is no reason to outlaw cash if it is exceptionally difficult and expensive.

    Try to live cash only for a month. You'll probably quit.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @11:29PM (#32372124)

    Was giving a fake name legal?

    As long as there is no intent to defraud, lying about anything, including your identity, is perfectly legal with only a few rare exceptions involving the government itself and even many of those exceptions the penalties are trivial. For example, you may end up in jail for lying on a concealed carry license application, but in most states lying about your name and address for your driver's license carries a penalty of, at worst, getting your license revoked if you get caught.

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