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5/27/2010
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Senators Propose Mandatory IDs For Prepaid Cell Phones

Citing the Times Square bombing suspect, who used a prepaid cell phone, two Senators have proposed legislation that would end anonymous use of prepaid mobile phone service.

Legislation aimed at thwarting criminals and terrorists has been proposed by two U.S. Senators who seek to require all applicants for prepaid phones to produce identification when they sign up for mobile phone service.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), who point out that Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old suspect who recently attempted to place a bomb in Times Square had used a prepaid cell phone which was later used by authorities to track him down. The legislation would require carriers to keep data on prepaid accounts for 18 months.

“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 Schumer, who has talked about the issue with U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Although the legislation doesn’t have sponsorship in the House, Schumer believes it has a good chance of passage.

Shahzad was traced by law enforcement authorities who used information he supplied when signing up for prepaid phone service. The would-be terrorist used a prepaid phone to arrange for the purchase of a Nissan Pathfinder he attempted to use as a car bomb. In addition, he used the phone for calls to Pakistan that helped identify him and some associates.

Cornyn and Schumer said because of the fact that Shahzad had been ID’d through the phone, authorities “might never have been able to match the phone number” provided by the seller of the Pathfinder.

However, civil liberties and privacy advocates have expressed reservations about the senators’ proposal, because they want to ensure there are anonymous communications for whistleblowers and others needing to report crimes without fear of retaliation.

“I think everybody would admit in a free society there is a need for some ability to communicate without creating a full digital paper trail,” said James Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, according to media reports.

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