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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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  • Fake ID? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:37PM (#32365794)

    I guess we couldn't use fake IDs to circumvent this, now could we?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by afidel ( 530433 )
      Or use a phone/SIM purchased outside the US or use a stolen phone, etc. They also might not care, I don't think the 9/11 hijackers cared if we ID'd them afterwords since they were already willing to die for their cause.
  • by JustinRLynn ( 831164 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:38PM (#32365806)
    It seems to me that requiring the presentation of ID before purchasing something for the purpose of associating it with an identity for future use won't work as there's no way that you can guarantee the identity the person presents is genuine. All this law will do is encourage people to present fake identification when purchasing said goods, especially if they're going to use them for nefarious purposes.
    • 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.
    • Criminals are stupid and will actually do things like present their real IDs. Prisons aren't full of masterminds, you know.
      • by chicago_scott ( 458445 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:52PM (#32366062) Journal

        So you're taking away the my freedom to have legal anonymous communication in order to catch only the stupid criminals?

        Sounds like a bad trade-off to me.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by bitt3n ( 941736 )

          So you're taking away the my freedom to have legal anonymous communication in order to catch only the stupid criminals?

          Sounds like a bad trade-off to me.

          well think of it from congress's point of view: locking up the stupid criminals means less competition for elected office, whereas letting the smart ones run free ensures a continued source of campaign contributions.

    • by msimm ( 580077 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:52PM (#32366072) Homepage
      What it will do is enable the government (for whatever hair-brained reasons) to track LAW ABIDING citizens. Criminals, those people bent on breaking the law, will simply buy the phones off-market or use falsified documentation.

      Yet another brilliantly thought-out law which misses mark entirely. Maybe someday only criminals will have rights and everyone else will be guilty until proven innocent?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 )

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

        So it's all about tracking the poor.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by robot256 ( 1635039 )

          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!

      • One thing is certain, these knee jerk laws certainly erode the rights of citizens who in no way were part of the event causing the stupid reaction.

        But really, since when has our government cared about freedom and rights? Being elected is a concern and getting tax money also is.
        But like dogs, they seem to live entirely in the present and are incapable of extrapolating the long term consequences of all of these laws.

        But they sure know how to raise Millions of Corporate contributions and note that these "spons

  • by ak_hepcat ( 468765 ) <leif@[ ] ['den' in gap]> on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:38PM (#32365810) Homepage Journal

    "Um, hey, Fred, while you're at Best Buy, could you pick me up a throwaway phone? I'm going on vacation and don't want to
    take my RAZR with me to jihad-camp"

    Sigh. Security theatre is not secure.

  • Burn Notice (Score:5, Funny)

    by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:40PM (#32365828)

    But what will Michael do in his crazy antics in Miami? He usually needs like 3 prepaid phones for every job. It will kill off one my favorite shows!

  • The wire (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The wire called, they want their idea back.

  • by x_IamSpartacus_x ( 1232932 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:40PM (#32365838)
    This is already being done in India and South Africa (where prepaid phones are everywhere and contract phones are nearly non-existent) and it's retarded. I am American and I travel into and out of South Africa all the time and no-one wants to sell me a SIM card. You have to be able to prove residence in South Africa to get one and I live in Mozambique (and Botswana beforehand). Theft is RAMPANT in SA and people think having a name on file of who the phone's number is will stop anything? I have to find a South African who will buy me a SIM card any time I need to call from within SA.

    India implemented this law before they had their terrorist attacks last year and it sure did a lot to prevent those eh?
    • Also Mexico (Score:3, Informative)

      by Requiem18th ( 742389 )

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

  • by Maarx ( 1794262 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:43PM (#32365892)

    Clearly, the only people who would object to such legislation are criminals.

    Those of us who aren't doing anything illegal would have absolutely no reason to fear the loss of anonymous communication.

  • by Nichotin ( 794369 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:44PM (#32365898)
    A few years back, you could buy prepaid phones in Norway without any ID, but then they made a law so that all prepaid cards had to be registered with social security number. It is now harder for most mindless criminals to call anonymously, so they use their own names and get caught easily. The more clever ones simply use other peoples social security numbers when they want anonymous (for them) prepaid numbers.
    Because of the latter, I am concerned about the consequences. Maybe they should legalize drugs and get rid of the top reason why people would want a anonymous phone in the first place, but I can only dream.
  • by Mex ( 191941 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:45PM (#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...

  • Most countries in Europe already do this.
    Switzerland was one of the last and bent to the pressure as well.
  • 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 BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @02:49PM (#32366014) Homepage Journal
    Of course it would take a piece of legislation that completely tramples anonymous communication to convince two congressmen from two very different states to put aside partisan politics and play ball together. Why is it that the politicos can only team up on things that screw the citizens, but not the ones that help the citizens? Fucking assholes.
  • 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.

  • 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).

  • Easy solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ambiguous Coward ( 205751 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:18PM (#32366572) Homepage

    This is easy to solve: just put a EULA with the phone requiring the purchaser not to use said phone for illegal purposes.

  • Let's see... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geminidomino ( 614729 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:19PM (#32366588) Journal

    No appreciable hardship to corporate sponsors (in fact, forcing registration gives them a whole new dataset to mine and sell). Check.
    Small chance of political backlash from constituents? (Off of slashdot, few seem to care about rights when it comes to tech). Check.
    More power to abusive LEAs? Check.

    Yep. This things already as good as passed.

  • The Wire (Score:5, Informative)

    by stimpleton ( 732392 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:24PM (#32366680)
    I have just finished watching The Wire [] 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) *

      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.

  • by Amigan ( 25469 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:42PM (#32367002) Homepage
    I would think that it's more important to prove you can vote than show an id to buy a tracfone. Obviously, Chuckie doesn't. jerry
  • Total bullshit. (Score:3, Informative)

    by moxley ( 895517 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @03:44PM (#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.

  • 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 ?

  • 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.

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly