May 27, 2010

No More Prepaid Cellphone Anonymity

US lawmakers made public Wednesday a bill that will enable law enforcement to identify prepaid cell phone users, alleging that anonymity makes the devices appealing to terrorists, drug dealers and gang members.

The legislation, if passed, would require prepaid cell phone buyers to show identification when they purchase them. The bill would also mandate that telephone companies keep the information on file as they do with contract cell-phones.

"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," said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

Schumer noted that Faisal Shahzad -- the alleged Times Square bomb plotter -- had used a prepaid cell phone that can often be untraceable and a "dead end for law enforcement."

"While most Americans use prepaid mobile devices lawfully, the anonymous nature of these devices gives too much cover to individuals looking to use them for deviant, dangerous means," said Republican Senator John Cornyn.

Shahzad used a prepaid cell phone to arrange the purchase of the vehicle used in the car bomb attempt, and that US authorities tracked him down only because a number listed in the phone's call log matched one Shahzad provided to authorities months earlier when he entered the United States, according to the senators.

"But for that stroke of luck, authorities might never have been able to match the phone number provided by the seller of the Pathfinder to Shahzad," they said in a joint statement.

Countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Thailand, and others already require registration for prepaid cell phone users, the senators said, adding that at least six US states have been considering similar rules.