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Proposed Law Would Require ID To Buy Prepaid Phones 615

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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  • Throw me a bone. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:37PM (#32365786)

    Throw me a bone, civil liberty advocates. Help me catch badguys without infringing on their liberties. Real suggestions welcome.

  • by internetcommie ( 945194 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:42PM (#32365862)
    Yeah, but it might help the coppers catch the stupid criminals who don't have fake ids, or screw up and use their real one. Assuming they have a real one, of course.
  • And yet... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:48PM (#32365980)
    The police seem perfectly able to hunt down the owner of a prepaid cellphone when it contains child porn on it []. How can they manage that yet not hunt down terrorists the same way?
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:54PM (#32366096) Homepage Journal

    What about those of us who already have prepaid phones bought with cash? It's one of the things I like about Boost Mobile; they can't track me.

    You don't need a phone to buy an SUV, only money. What's next, they're going to outlaw cash?

    The "drug kingpins" part made me laugh; it isn't the kingpins, it's the neighborhood dealers. And this won't stop anybody, dope dealers routinely "rent" other people's cars to make deliveries, they'll simply trade drugs for an AT&T iPhone. Hell, they're doing it already.

    What did law enforcement do before telephones were invented?

    And this stupid law will actually hurt law enforcement -- now, they have people anonymously make tips (narc on people) to make arrests. Without untraceable communications, folks are going to be less likely to tip someone off, especially here in Illinois where cops and politicians are notoriously crooked. Nobody in his right mind would narc using a traceable form of communication; that could turn out to be fatal. A whole lot of cops are on the dope dealers' payrolls.

    Like the drug laws themselves, this will cause the very problems it purports to solve.

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

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:57PM (#32366160)

    It's not infringing on their liberties that is the problem, it's infringing on my liberties that is. All it takes to infringe on their liberties is a warrant or a court order. In order to infringe on my liberties you better be amending the constitution because anonymous speech is the only way to have truly free speech.

  • The Premise is False (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:59PM (#32366198)

    You do NOT need to give the phone company an ID for a landline.
    Last time I had a landline, all they needed was a cash deposit of around $100.
    I gave them a completely bogus name because I didn't want to pay extra to have my name removed from the phonebook (nor did I want to be on the list of people who have paid to keep their name out of the phone book either).

  • by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:08PM (#32366380) Homepage

    If your SIM was purchased outside the United States, expect zero bars of signal.

    Of course. I hadn't thought of that. Must have been pure luck and happenstance that my UK mobile worked a treat when I rocked up in the US.

    Get a pre-paid 'phone from anywhere non-US and use it in the US. Perhaps a bit expensive but I don't suppose the criminal underworld will be too upset about that.

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:09PM (#32366404) Homepage Journal

    Except that is exactly the stated purpose of this law -- to prevent Evil Terrorists from using prepaids to coordinate attacks.

    RTFS, for goodness sake.

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

    by flitty ( 981864 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:13PM (#32366484)
    How does a warrant help if you don't know who is using a disposable phone?

    I'd say on the outrage meter, this idea should be roundly welcomed with a rollback on the "Wide Net" wiretaps that are currently occuring!
  • by b0bby ( 201198 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:14PM (#32366488)

    Why do you assume drugs are the "top reason" why one would want anonymous communications? What about a whistle blower? What about a witness to a crime?

    There are lots of avenues for a whistle blower or a witness to transmit information anonymously, since the information needs to only go one way. Ongoing criminal enterprises need two way communications, like burner phones.

  • Stolen phone market (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:20PM (#32366608) Homepage Journal
    Yes, and I'm certain that drug kingpins would buy the cellphone with their own, entirely legitimate photo ID.

    Aye, you touch on a good point. This will just create a demand among criminals for freshly stolen phones. Steal a phone, use it illegally for a day or two and toss it in a greyhound bus bound for opposite coast to fuck with gps surveillance attempts.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:53PM (#32367194)

    but this sort of ignorance needs to be corrected.

    There is no such thing as a "gun show loophole".

    At a gun show (in any relatively free state), private citizens can purchase from other private citizens without a background check. Neither is in the business of selling firearms, so no paperwork is required. (The dealers at the show must continue to follow all the same laws and procedures that they do back at their shop.)

    You can do the same thing at a garage/yard sale. I've gotten some of my best buys at such places. Every time I stop to look at the computer or audio equipment people have put out in their driveway, I never fail to ask "You got any guns?"

    You can do the same thing on a person-to-person basis. I've seen someone try to sell a gun to a pawnbroker who refused to give them enough money. The person walked out the door. That didn't stop me from following them out and offering to buy the gun.

    You can do the same thing via the want ads in the newspaper. I've bought many guns from people in my town via that method.

    You can do the same thing via an online meet-up. I've met people in internet forums who had a gun I was interested in. If they live in the same state as me and we can agree on a price, we both get in our cars and meet at some spot roughly halfway between our two houses. The last gun I bought was in the lobby of a Days Inn (I think; it was one of those cut-rate, business-travel hotels).

    In free states, any two people who can legally own guns can trade them for money.

    Big freakin' deal!

    There is absoutely nothing special about gun shows. There is no "gun show loophole".

    The politicians and anti-freedom activists who complain about the fictitious "gun show loophole" are people who simply want to outlaw all private, unregistered sales.

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

    by nephilimsd ( 936642 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:59PM (#32367268)
    Even though this probably won't have the intended effect in the long run, it probably will do quite a bit to narrow down the use of prepaid cell phones for nefarious purposes. As it stands with gun laws, I'm certainly not willing to go into a sporting good store, buy a gun, and hand it over to someone I don't know, even if there is a boat-load of cash being offered. The same will probably happen with cell phones, if the punishment for handing out or carrying an unlicensed cell phone is strict enough. It's not worth it for most decent citizens to get caught up in the mess. This doesn't stop fake IDs, of course, but it would be pretty easy to compare a would-be cell-phone purchaser's ID to their address via DMV database or something similar, which would mean the fake ID would have to immitate a real person, including their address. If a notice was then sent to that person's house (Attention Mr./Ms. So-and-so, We have just recorded a new pre-paid cell phone to your name and address. If you believe this to be in error, please contact such-and-such security department...) and further cut down on abuse. Overall, this policy will probably be more effective than people imagine if it's implemented well (which it probably won't be).
  • because... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:09PM (#32367412)

    criminals and terrorists actually have such a hard time faking ID ?

  • Re:The Wire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:44PM (#32368004) Journal

    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.

    Seconded. My feeling on it is that 'every scene is a practical civics or organizational lesson'. One of the only pieces of media I've experienced that provided a solid foundation and rewritten my understanding of a topic. Don't miss it. See also one sociologist's experience watching episodes [] with gang members.

    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 progression from pagers to cell phones during those seasons and how the technology vs. law battle unfolds is pretty interesting.

  • Re:Throw me a bone. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 27, 2010 @05:10PM (#32368376)

    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.

    Do people in the US have IDs when they are 10-14 years old? Because its common for them to have cell phones.

  • So, let's see..... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stanislav_J ( 947290 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @05:58PM (#32369036)

    So, we have a proposed law that will do nothing to stop criminals from:

    -- Using a fake ID to purchase the phone

    -- Forcing, coercing, or paying some sap to buy the phone for them

    -- Stealing phones, either from a store or an individual

    On the latter (and expect such thefts to multiply several-fold if this passes), if they steal from an individual, they often think they've just misplaced or lost it, and it may be some time before they contact their provider and have the service suspended. Even a store theft can go undetected for several hours, add on a few more to determine which phones (numbers) have been stolen, a few more for the bureaucracy to get those numbers blocked, etc. In either case, a thief could easily have 24-48 hours of use before the phone is disabled or monitored. Considering many crooks go through prepaid phones like candy anyway, this won't slow them down too much. That only leaves the dumber crooks, and if they're stupid enough to buy a phone with their real ID, they're probably stupid enough to get caught pretty quickly even without this law.

    On the other hand, this law would enable law-abiding users to be more easily tracked and identified by criminals, private eyes, general snoops, bill collectors, stalkers, blackmailers, and so on. Not to mention the guvmint, should you happen to hold ideas or engage in activities that, while not necessarily unlawful, are considered a "threat" by whomever is in power.

    So, all in all, we have a law that would (a) do nothing to reduce crime and, indeed, likely increase it (the aforementioned assumed rise in phone thefts), while (b) inconveniencing, harrassing, and possibly endangering law-abiding citizens.

    In other words....typical.

  • by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @07:26PM (#32369970)

    OK, either you're purposefully being dense here or you just don't get it. What was stopping the Times Square Bomber from using two-way radios to communicate with someone coordinating from a nearby hotel?

    Walkie talkies instead of cell phones for cross continent terrorist organizations? You're really going to suggest that after calling me dense? Ok, I'll bite. Besides long distance operatives will likely have to call non terror related regular folk using regular phones. The issue is once someone calls to say, buy a vehicle that they want to use in a strike, that call can later be traced to find whoever setup the purchase and then move up the chain.

    What was stopping him from using Skype to talk to a man on the moon?

    This is a semi reasonable alternative but it's not as easy to use from the field and still has a probability of being traced. In addition it requires the operative to be more intelligent, as in, you can't just hand them a couple burn phones and tell them to use them and lose them.

    What does detonating a bomb have to do with talking on the phone really?

    What does a seaborne terrorist attack launched from another country where cellphone investigations never came into play have to do with disproving the usefulness of a law about burn phones?

    For that matter, if you're a fucking suicide bomber what do you care if you have to show ID or not?

    If you're planning to blow yourself up in the cell phone store I suspect you don't. But that's AT&T's fault for lying to Apple fanatics about tethering being 'on the way', and no law we pass can protect them.

    In all seriousness though, if they are using the phones to communicate with their cell leader who is on the radar then you can trace that phone to the suicide bomber and possibly catch them beforehand. Or, if like the Times Square Bomber the dude ain't interested in blowing himself up, you can track him down faster once the investigation starts.

    Again, the proposed law is about cutting off a line of anonymous communication to make things harder on terrorists and criminals and give law enforcement an easier time to catch them. My argument was that it isn't being heralded as the end of terrorism, so it doesn't make sense to point out a single crime or single terrorist act and say the law is pointless because it doesn't prevent it. It's like saying a law about locking the cockpit doors is pointless because it wouldn't stop a scuba diver attack.

    What people should be doing is discussing whether losing that line of anonymous communication is worth the reward of making it harder for criminals and terrorists to communicate without detection.

  • Yeah, we have loads of such stupid laws in India which do NOTHING to prevent criminals but just trouble normal citizens. The sheer number of connections makes it impossible for them to do any check of the documents so they audit 1-2% of the documents. Another recent one is that WIFI should be secured since many terrorists were claiming responsibility for bombings over emails sent through unsecured wifi. Next up - ID required for drinking water. That'll stop all terrorists i'm sure, since all of them drink water sometime or the other.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.