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US government wants to track prepaid phone purchases

Posted at 27 May 2010 23:10 CEST by Randomus

US lawmakers have introduced a new bill that will give police the ability to better track and identify pre-paid cell phone users — claiming the devices are an easy means of communication for criminals.

If the legislation is passed, customers seeking to purchase a pre-paid phone will have to provide a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license.  The phone company will then keep the information on file just like a standard phone contract.

The proposal was created by Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Charles Schumer, after several high-profile cases in which pre-paid phones were used to commit crimes.  Most recently, it was learned the Pakistani-American who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square used a pre-paid phone to make calls overseas.

“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,” Schumer said in a statement.  “There’s no reason why it should still be this easy for terror plotters to cover their tracks.”

It’s possible to purchase pre-paid phones with cash from a local corner store or retailer without the need for a credit check or contract.

Several U.S. states are considering statewide legislation to require photo identification if the federal government doesn’t create a new law.  Australia, Germany, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, South Africa and a few other countries have legislation in place to safeguard the use of pre-paid phones.

Government agencies and some police departments have said before that prepaid phones are a burden for investigations — especially since it’s so easy to purchase, use, and then dispose of the device.  However, I’m still nervous any time the government says they want to clamp down on the use of a technology for national security — especially since it’s possible that this power could be abused.

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There are 19 comments

CDan
MyCE Resident
Posted on: 27 May 10 23:29
    Since they first have to link a specific phone to a crime, it's not much of an imposition on anyone. The records would have all the same protections that all phone records have now. This move is 10 years over-due. It's simply a means to provide evidence of who has the phone in question, and/or in the case of an ongoing investigation a wire tap.
    UTR
    MyCE Resident
    Posted on: 28 May 10 07:21
      I like that I can purchase a phone and speak anonymously if I choose to. The US government is already up my a$$ far enough and if they go any further they could use my uvula for a punching bag. The government has too much authority now and it sure doesn't need anymore.
      edross
      New Member
      Posted on: 28 May 10 12:18
        If the two options are either to lose the prepaid market completely or have an ID on file, I'll show them anything they want. Prepaid finally gives the mobile consumer the same right to choose and shop around that we enjoy in nearly every other facet of life. Will it stop terrorists or drug dealers from using them? I dont know. I do know they manage to have a functioning prepaid market in other countries, to the benefit of consumers, so why can't we here? I have a Net10 phone, I'd never go back to my old contract so show me where to provide ID and you've got it!
        CDan
        MyCE Resident
        Posted on: 28 May 10 19:39
          Quote:
          Originally Posted by UTR
          I like that I can purchase a phone and speak anonymously if I choose to.
          This legislation does not change that. Uncle Sam won't even know you have it without a court order for the records. Plus they have to be looking specifically for you, they can't just go fishing through the records.
          Blu-rayFreak
          MyCE Resident
          Posted on: 28 May 10 19:53
            Quote:
            Originally Posted by CDan
            This legislation does not change that. Uncle Sam won't even know you have it without a court order for the records. Plus they have to be looking specifically for you, they can't just go fishing through the records.
            In general, I'm against any increased government interference. If enacted, this documentation requirement will probably cause prepaid phone costs to increase, if even slightly.

            I also don't see how such legislation would stop one person from buying phones and then providing them to others for usage. Or would it make that illegal too?
            UTR
            MyCE Resident
            Posted on: 28 May 10 20:21
              It just seems to me that the government always has to have a way to track you or put you under its thumb. They want to stack the deck as high as possible in their favor even if it overtly infringes on citizen's rights.
              mciahel
              Senior Moderator
              Posted on: 28 May 10 21:20
                Well, here in Germany you need to register your (prepaid) SIM card also.
                But is no problem to buy a prepaid SIM in a supermarket and register via internet. Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse can register their SIM this way, also

                Michael
                Seán
                Senior Administrator & Reviewer
                Posted on: 28 May 10 21:49
                  In Ireland, it's optional, at least the last time I bought pre-pay SIMs. However, generally the SIMs come with quite a lot of free credit that requires registration to make use of. Then again, like mciahel, there's nothing stopping one registering online and putting "Mickey Mouse" as the name and a false address to get the bundled credit.

                  The same applies with Internet SIMs. I recently bought a pre-pay broadband SIM, popped it in my 3G router and was on the Internet, effectively anonymously.

                  Vouchers are the same here - most newsagents sell them and buying one is as easy as buying a newspaper.

                  I wonder if this affects prepaid calling cards in the US, as what's to stop a criminal using a prepaid calling card on a public telephone?

                  Like the above say, I have a prepay phone and definitely would not go on a contract. No silly 12 to 24 month contract to be tied up with. For long distance calls, I pop my 3G internet SIM in my smartphone and use an SIP application I installed for making the calls via VoIP. The providers here don't block SIP or Skype (at least not O2 or 3 Ireland) and in-fact, 3 Ireland promotes the use of Skype.
                  DukeNukem
                  MyCE Resident Commenter
                  Posted on: 28 May 10 22:08
                    I really don't have a problem with this. It's not a huge inconvenience. No worse than those aliens watching my every move since that abduction in 2004. I just wish they had found a less painful way to probe me. Hopefully the federal government will be more considerate.
                    Coriantumr
                    New Member
                    Posted on: 29 May 10 16:38
                      Quote:
                      Originally Posted by Seán
                      In Ireland, it's optional, at least the last time I bought pre-pay SIMs. However, generally the SIMs come with quite a lot of free credit that requires registration to make use of. Then again, like mciahel, there's nothing stopping one registering online and putting "Mickey Mouse" as the name and a false address to get the bundled credit.

                      The same applies with Internet SIMs. I recently bought a pre-pay broadband SIM, popped it in my 3G router and was on the Internet, effectively anonymously.

                      Vouchers are the same here - most newsagents sell them and buying one is as easy as buying a newspaper.

                      I wonder if this affects prepaid calling cards in the US, as what's to stop a criminal using a prepaid calling card on a public telephone?

                      Like the above say, I have a prepay phone and definitely would not go on a contract. No silly 12 to 24 month contract to be tied up with. For long distance calls, I pop my 3G internet SIM in my smartphone and use an SIP application I installed for making the calls via VoIP. The providers here don't block SIP or Skype (at least not O2 or 3 Ireland) and in-fact, 3 Ireland promotes the use of Skype.
                      The re Aint no public phones here the ole usa anymore.Prepaid cells ARE the public phones, SIR
                      debro
                      Blown to smitherines
                      Posted on: 30 May 10 02:42
                        Quote:
                        Originally Posted by UTR
                        It just seems to me that the government always has to have a way to track you or put you under its thumb. They want to stack the deck as high as possible in their favor even if it overtly infringes on citizen's rights.
                        Incidentally, a recent survey shows that paranoia is lowest in the following countries: Australia, Germany, Japan, Norway, Switzerland & South Africa.

                        Do you make phone calls on prepaid mobiles at home, at work?
                        Bang, they already know who you are.

                        Only people wanting to engage in criminal activities have any real reason to argue against providing prepaid phone registration.
                        Get a fake ID, and buy a prepaid phone .. your anonymity is secure ... along with your criminal status
                        UTR
                        MyCE Resident
                        Posted on: 30 May 10 03:45
                          Quote:
                          Originally Posted by debro
                          Incidentally, a recent survey shows that paranoia is lowest in the following countries: Australia, Germany, Japan, Norway, Switzerland & South Africa.
                          What others do is their business. I don't like a government that needs/wants the ability to know more about its citizens than is reasonable. To me this crosses the line of what I consider reasonable.

                          Quote:
                          Originally Posted by debro
                          Do you make phone calls on prepaid mobiles at home, at work? Bang, they already know who you are.
                          If the phone is purchased without tracking the buyer then the government doesn't know what phone to zero in on. Also, most prepaid phones don't have GPS, so triangulating a signal won't give a precise location of a phone in use. If the government doesn't know what phone to look for, or who bought a given phone, then tracking a person using a prepaid phone is very problematic. Why do you think they want these sales records enacted?

                          Quote:
                          Originally Posted by debro
                          Only people wanting to engage in criminal activities have any real reason to argue against providing prepaid phone registration.
                          I don't engage in criminal activity and want to be able to purchase a prepaid phone without letting the government perform a proctological exam on me. A government that needs such invasive capabilities toward its citizens can't be trusted, IMO.

                          Quote:
                          Originally Posted by debro
                          Get a fake ID, and buy a prepaid phone .. your anonymity is secure ... along with your criminal status
                          Why should I, a non criminal, have to break the law to buy a prepaid phone that is anonymous? This is the mentality the government has instilled in people. That being, let the government do whatever it wants and then we have to break the law in to regain the freedoms we just gave away to them. People need to wake up about what they are allowing the government to do to them. Their basic freedoms are being eroded away and they either don't realize it or don't care.

                          Thomas Jefferson was a wise man and the following is one of my favorite quotes from him:

                          "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

                          We are fast becoming the latter, IMO.
                          Blu-rayFreak
                          MyCE Resident
                          Posted on: 31 May 10 20:14
                            I'm with UTR ^_^
                            UTR
                            MyCE Resident
                            Posted on: 31 May 10 23:34
                              Quote:
                              Originally Posted by Blu-rayFreak
                              I'm with UTR ^_^
                              This prepaid phone issue is almost equivalent to the gun laws etc. We allow the government to pass laws that prohibit law abiding citizens from buying prepaid phones, or guns, and those new laws doesn't make the criminals play by the new rules at all. They still play by the old rules and have anonymous phones, or carry guns, and law abiding citizens are the only ones it affects and many times in a negative way. The criminals just keep on with business as usual.

                              After all the chest thumping from the government about how they need a certain law to protect us, in the end that law doesn't do much more than erode the freedoms of law abiding citizens. They rarely have the effect on the criminals that was advertised by the government.
                              Mr. Belvedere
                              MyCE Resident
                              Posted on: 01 Jun 10 00:28
                                Quote:
                                Originally Posted by mciahel
                                Well, here in Germany you need to register your (prepaid) SIM card also.
                                But is no problem to buy a prepaid SIM in a supermarket and register via internet. Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse can register their SIM this way, also

                                Michael
                                I can buy a SIM with cold hard cash if i wanted to. Nobody is stopping me.

                                I could also buy it with someone else's credit card. Nobody is stopping me.

                                I could also exchange prepay sims with a friend. Nobody is stopping me.

                                The government can listen, track and trace me each and every time they want me to. Nobody is stopping them.

                                Assume you are getting eavesdropped and your life is so much easier.

                                Besides, what a lame terrorist you would be if you would not assume you are being spied on 24/7.
                                Mr. Belvedere
                                MyCE Resident
                                Posted on: 01 Jun 10 00:30
                                  Quote:
                                  Originally Posted by debro
                                  Get a fake ID, and buy a prepaid phone .. your anonymity is secure ... along with your criminal status
                                  I call bullshit here. Everything and each phone call and transaction is logged. Either via a camera or a computer system or both. If people wanted to, they can pinpoint exactly what you were doing 24/7. So? It's not a big deal, it's just number crunching. CDfreaks itself does this constantly.
                                  debro
                                  Blown to smitherines
                                  Posted on: 01 Jun 10 01:13
                                    Quote:
                                    Originally Posted by Mr. Belvedere
                                    I call bullshit here. Everything and each phone call and transaction is logged. Either via a camera or a computer system or both. If people wanted to, they can pinpoint exactly what you were doing 24/7. So? It's not a big deal, it's just number crunching. CDfreaks itself does this constantly.
                                    Pretty much

                                    When I go shopping, I pass security camera in the stores .... at the registers, there are cameras aimed in such a way that they can monitor both the till & the customer. On my way to work (the 3 minute walk) I pass about 20 OBVIOUS camera's .. probably a whole bunch of better concealed cameras too.

                                    How hard would it really be to match up a sale of a particular Sim card with a camera image, and then do a quick search on a face, and match it up with a credit card sale, and obtain all the information on that credit card to determine who the person is .....

                                    There was a big push a year or so ago, for the police to network all the camera's in the CBD of Sydney ... people protested about it and the people were ignored. The only reason it didn't go ahead was because it cost too much, and was currently technically infeasible (due to mixture of older non-digital cameras).

                                    **BUT JUST THINK OF THE MARKETTING POTENTIAL**
                                    They've just got over their financial hurdle.

                                    Hmmm ...

                                    If you want anonymity, use a CB radio with passphrases And even then, they can use triangulation, along with camera monitoring, and credit card transactions/etc.

                                    It would be a mistake to think that your activities aren't already being monitored almost 24/7, and that they can't already know everything about you. Unless you're floundering around in the bush .. and even then ... some marketter already has you pigeon holed for their rural/paranoid products ....


                                    The only proviso to the paranoia conerning security ... is who is monitoring you

                                    As stated above, CDFreaks is big brother, Marketting Departments are Big Brother ... the only sector that isn't monitoring you is the government (in non-communist countries) ... they just don't have the budget nor incentive to justify the design, installation or cost of those sort of monitoring systems.

                                    The world knows the US government has had to cut back on their gold plated toilet seats recently ... The US government debt is almost equal to the US annual GDP ...
                                    Blu-rayFreak
                                    MyCE Resident
                                    Posted on: 02 Jun 10 19:03
                                      Quote:
                                      Originally Posted by debro
                                      the only sector that isn't monitoring you is the government (in non-communist countries) ... they just don't have the budget nor incentive to justify the design, installation or cost of those sort of monitoring systems.
                                      You have heard of the United States NSA wiretapping, haven't you? Basically they have access to record/eaves drop on all telephone calls, even without a warrant/court order. It's a huge infringement on our civil liberties and yet it still goes on...
                                      debro
                                      Blown to smitherines
                                      Posted on: 09 Jun 10 14:50
                                        Quote:
                                        Originally Posted by Blu-rayFreak
                                        You have heard of the United States NSA wiretapping, haven't you? Basically they have access to record/eaves drop on all telephone calls, even without a warrant/court order. It's a huge infringement on our civil liberties and yet it still goes on...
                                        I'm sure it's just the technicality of legitimising their already common practices.

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