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Bill Introduced To Require ID When Purchasing "Burner Phones" ( 556

insitus quotes a report from Speier.House.Gov: Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) introduced the Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, which would require people to present identification when purchasing "burner phones" and other pre-paid mobile devices, as well as requiring merchants to keep records of those purchases. "Burner phones" are pre-paid phones that terrorists, human traffickers, and narcotics dealers often use to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement because they can be purchased without identification and record-keeping requirements. This bill would close that legal gap. "This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery," said Speier. "The 'burner phone' loophole is an egregious gap in our legal framework that allows actors like the 9/11 hijackers and the Times Square bomber to evade law enforcement while they plot to take innocent lives. The Paris attackers also used 'burner phones.' As we've seen so vividly over the past few days, we cannot afford to take those kinds of risks. It's time to close this 'burner phone' loophole for good."
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Bill Introduced To Require ID When Purchasing "Burner Phones"

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  • by I'm not god any more ( 613402 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:43PM (#51779115)
    The bill is going to be useless unless the used phone market is eliminated.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:55PM (#51779199)

      Presumingly they mean burner simcards

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:38PM (#51779783) Homepage

      The bill is straight up 100% stupid. Obviously the phone on it's own is nothing, it is it's connection to the network that counts. So the bill should target the connection ie no connection are allowed to mobile phone network, without the user personally fronting the network representative, showing ID and a photographic record taken, so basically an operators licence, where all pass but must be identified. Then you hold the licences operators of that phone accountable for the actions sourced from that phone, you of course lose accountability on proof of hack or report of theft of the phone.

      The incumbent Telecom lobbyists would have blocked this because of cost. They do not give a crap who suffers what as a result of criminal activities being conducted via that all too easy access, that just want more money with fewer responsibilities. The bill needs to target connections to the network and that people are identified and recorded when establishing that connection and held liable for criminal actions initiated from that device to the network.

      • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer&earthlink,net> on Saturday March 26, 2016 @01:31AM (#51780797)

        What of stolen phones? What if the phone owner is "stolen" and then phone taken from them?

        I recall a similar law being proposed in Mexico to address children of wealthy families being kidnapped and taken for ransom. The common response was that the kidnappers would just call from the child's phone.

        This bill will do nothing.

        This reminds me of a lot of gun control laws meaning to control crime as a lot of the same issues apply here. A background check only checks for past behavior, and any contact information is also from the past. Future behavior may be predicted by past behavior but it can only do so much. ID and pictures are worthless if the phone or gun is stolen. Attacking the phone service is like having to show ID to buy bullets, people will just have a straw buyer, go to a black market, or steal.

        Also like gun control a bill like this will increase costs and create an inconvenience for many but do next to nothing to actually prevent the activity it is targeting. I can say this because for every one criminal that uses a phone or gun in a crime there are millions of law abiding people that will have to show ID.

        I don't know which best applies, needle in a haystack, witch hunt, wild goose chase, or all the above.

    • eBay requires online payment, usually credit card or PayPal so there's still a trace. Also, for face to face purchases, fake IDs are trivial for criminals to get hold of. They can also steal phones from people if they need to, e.g. in the Paris attacks.

    • by niftymitch ( 1625721 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @10:21PM (#51780255)

      The bill is going to be useless unless the used phone market is eliminated.

      Not just used phones but battered women shelters.

      Also travelers... If I was traveling to various parts of the world
      I would take a prepaid phone and not risk getting hacked.
      Companies do this for some of their employees.

      N.B. You must have ID to get an ID.

    • It is easier to track a small number of unregistered phones than a large number of registered ones and they could not even track the smaller number.
  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:46PM (#51779131) Homepage

    I mean, no-one has ever faked ID. Or paid a kid $20 to go buy a couple of phones.

    And where will it end? ID to buy box-cutters to close the box-cutter loophole? ID to buy nails because they're used in nail bombs? ID to buy pressure cookers?

    • by flatt ( 513465 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:53PM (#51779185) Homepage Journal

      When it passes, we'll have major crack downs on straw purchases for 30 minute tactical assault ghost phones with things that go up. Not exactly surprised this is coming out of San Francisco.

    • I mean, no-one has ever faked ID. Or paid a kid $20 to go buy a couple of phones.

      Or stolen a phone. Cheaper and easier than buying one.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:28PM (#51779413)

      ID to buy nails because they're used in nail bombs? ID to buy pressure cookers?

      Why don't we just cut to the chase already? Mandatory scanning of an ID and reporting to the government by all retailers, for any transaction where the payment method is by Cash or Personal check.

    • I mean, no-one has ever faked ID. Or paid a kid $20 to go buy a couple of phones.

      That still gets you to the Point of Sale. Time and date of purchase. It may get you video of the buyer, copies of the fake ID, and so on. Do you still want to be the kid who fronts for the buyer of a burner phone? I can't say I like the odds.

  • Double edged sword (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UPZ ( 947916 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:46PM (#51779133)
    I can understand closing the security gap. However, in a country where NSA monitors communications without warrant I'm just as worried about the government as the terrorists. Not afraid in the same way, obviously.
    • by dosius ( 230542 ) <> on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:48PM (#51779163) Journal

      I'm not afraid of terrorists (even though I live in a power point that they'd probably love to attack). The government, otoh, and don't give me that BS about "if you ain't got nothing to hide, you needn't worry". EVERYBODY has skeletons in their closets.

      • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:58PM (#51779219) Homepage Journal

        EVERYBODY has skeletons in their closets.

        Not everybody. Some of us mash the bones up, mix them with clay and make sculptures with it. Or plates.

        Ummm ... that's what, yeah, a guy said, who was on the creative writing course I took.

        BRB, door.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by houstonbofh ( 602064 )
        More people are killed by our government then by terrorists. Which is the bigger threat?
      • by pixelpusher220 ( 529617 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:30PM (#51779427)
        When terrorists kill more people than choking on chicken wings, I'll be appropriately scared of them. 9/11 was a significant thing. And it was *entirely* resolved by 3 things. 1. reinforced/locked cockpit doors 2. Me. 3. You.

        The old understood contract of just sit tight during a hijacking and get let off in Cuba or wherever was ripped to shreds as evidenced by Flight 93 in PA. NOBODY is going to sit idly by anymore.

        I've always wondered about burner phones for this specific reason though. In a world where every 'number' should have a person assoc with it, it seems odd that it would be allowable to have completely anonymous phones able to be used. I understand the myriad of reasons why LOTS of people might want and legitimately need a burner phone, but that ability comes with societal costs such as people using them for 'bad' (TM) reasons; same obviously go's for crowbars and baseball bats.

        A burner phone is a tool that can be used for good or ill and should we ban 'tools' simply because it can be abused? In most cases, I'm firmly in the 'no' category and deal with it. In this case, I'm conflicted...
      • You live IN a power point?

        Oh, I'm so sorry.

  • Ok (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:47PM (#51779141)

    How about you make getting an ID free then?

    It certainly seems to be increasingly required for just about everything these days....

  • Anonymity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:50PM (#51779173) Journal
    Just off the top of my head the only problem I can see with this is it also precludes the possibility of someone being able to make an anonymous call. It's no longer the case that there are payphones everywhere, that you can call 911 for free from, or drop coins into the slot and make an anonymous call that way. If ID is required for a burn phone then for all intents and purposes all calls made can be traced back to the individual.

    Can anyone else come up with valid reasons why a non-criminal, non-terrorist would need to make an anonymous phone call?
    • Re:Anonymity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:55PM (#51779193)


    • Re:Anonymity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:57PM (#51779211) Journal
      I'd also like to add, that legislation like this may not end up solving the problem it's designed to solve; it may just create a new Black Market for cellphones, or increase the size of it if one already exists. Purchases from shady sellers, and thefts of cellphones might well increase.
      • And google voice over free wifi with cheap Chinese tablets...
      • by rsborg ( 111459 )

        I'd also like to add, that legislation like this may not end up solving the problem it's designed to solve; it may just create a new Black Market for cellphones, or increase the size of it if one already exists. Purchases from shady sellers, and thefts of cellphones might well increase.

        Correct. Just imagine - instead of "selling" the phone, you list it and it gets "stolen" while you just happened to find a cash bundle lying around...
        For those who really want/need to stay anon, this will still happen, and be driven further underground.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Criminal government and criminal government agencies listening in?

    • Maybe, just maybe you need to just go along with the flow. It is easier that way. Just ignore that voice inside your soul. It has been wrong before. The LAW says what you need to do. You don't get to vote for the law. This flawless system is always correct and to stray from its directive is futile, and hence, illogical. It's YOUR call.
    • Re:Anonymity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:04PM (#51779265)

      "The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible." -Justice Stevens

      "[p]ersecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all..."-Justice Black

      First Amendment is first.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Can anyone else come up with valid reasons why a non-criminal, non-terrorist would need to make an anonymous phone call?

      how about *everybody* because it's NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS who i am, where i am, who i call/text/email and when, or what the topics of conversation were.

    • Re:Anonymity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:24PM (#51779391)

      I am not going to answer a stupid question like that.

      instead, you should be forced to tell us why the right to anonymity should be TAKEN AWAY after so many years of having it?

      do not ask us to justify our freedom; instead, demand that we get justification for REMOVING them.

      so far, I have not seen a single reason that justifies the removal of anon calling.

      and that's because - there IS NO VALID REASON to remove that freedom.

      only terrorists (ie, government goons who want to keep us in constant fear and surveillance) would want this. why do you hate america so much, poster?

    • Can anyone else come up with valid reasons why a non-criminal, non-terrorist would need to make an anonymous phone call?

      Maybe because I live in a free country, or because I have First and Fourth Amendment rights, or because the government doesn't have a valid reason to snoop on me or anyone else. This isn't going to stop any terrorists--they will simply use alternate means of communication.

    • Re:Anonymity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ( 245670 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:20PM (#51779693)

      I don't need a "valid" reason to want privacy. The government needs a valid reason to eliminate my ability to maintain privacy.

    • Re:Anonymity (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:22PM (#51779701) Journal

      I shouldn't have to justify my privacy.

      Do you have a lock on your front door? Curtains on the windows? What are you hiding?

    • Re:Anonymity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @11:01PM (#51780457) Homepage

      Reporting that your daddy, the police officer, just raped your friend.
      Reporting that a pack of cops just killed an innocent man.
      Reporting that a street gang member committed a crime, knowing his cousins are cops and will know who you are.
      Arranging to meet with a friend so you can get an abortion in a state where they will arrest you, the driver, and the doctor, if they can.
      Reporting a mafia hit.
      Shall I go on, and on ...

  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @06:55PM (#51779195)
    European countries have had these laws for many years. Doesn't seem to help with preventing terrorist attacks. There are also many simple technical ways of getting around these laws: use IP telephony, order SIM cards from abroad and use international roaming, etc.

    These kinds of laws are utterly pointless and ineffective in preventing terrorism. They are, however, very effective means by which government can terrorize law abiding citizens, by going on legal fishing expeditions and blackmailing people with legal but embarrassing personal conduct.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:04PM (#51779259)

      And that is just it: This is not about terrorism at all.

    • by vrt3 ( 62368 )

      > European countries have had these laws for many years.

      I'm not sure about other countries, but I live in Belgium and here we can easily buy pre-paid SIM cards and cheap phones to use them in without any form of ID.

    • by Natales ( 182136 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:26PM (#51779719)
      Mod parent up. I feel more ashamed that it's actually MY congresswoman, and I will write her a note, because this is absolutely non-sensical as many have already pointed out. It will stop nothing.
      I can get any low-end Android phone, put it in airplane mode and never sign up with a carrier, connect to any public WiFi network, and use a SIP client with ZRTP to connect to a server paid with Bitcoin to do my anonymous calls.
      This is classic government reactive approach with no input from subject matter experts, always 10 steps behind.
  • by clonehappy ( 655530 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:04PM (#51779263)

    You know, for the children and because of terrorists and shit. Because before cellphones, absolutely NO ONE EVER stood by a payphone waiting for a call, usually from their counterpart calling from another payphone.

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:18PM (#51779363)
    Lots more stolen phones, and phones smuggled from Mexico/Canada.

    Seems to me that, while looking good on the surface, once you really start to think about it this is a bad idea.
    • The smuggler trick can be dried up by not letting mexican or canadian SIM cards roam on US networks unless the confirmed ID is known by US authorities.

      But the stealer trick... well, that's probably what's gonna happen.

  • by rakslice ( 90330 ) <> on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:29PM (#51779421) Homepage Journal

    Draft text []

    If you want to pass a law for its instrumental value, then you need make a case that it's actually going to work.

    If this law works as intended, what would success look like? Maybe one of these things:
    - Actually intercepting terrorists' communications before an attack?
    - Actually intercepting terrorists' communications during an attack?
    - Making it so terrorists can only communicate by ways other than cell phone during a terrorist attack?
    - Making it so we can easily identify terrorists who used a cell phone during a terrorist attack after the attack is done?
    Or something else I haven't thought of?

    Are we already achieving any of those things by other means in some cases? If so, when aren't we, and would the law help us with that?

    As background for figuring out if we will achieve our goal(s), let's get some more info about the world.
    Currently terrorists purchase prepaid phones without ID and use them before and during terrorist attacks. If the proposed law was in effect, what would they do instead?
    - Would they still be able to acquire a cellphone from a retailer without actually identifying themselves?
    - Also, are there any other ways that a terrorist could obtain cellphones without identifying themselves?
    If you want people to think up ideas about that you've probably come to the right place.
    * Giving fake info to an online retailer
    * Giving another person's info to an online retailer
    * Paying an unrelated third party (e.g. a homeless person) to buy a phone and give it to them
    * Stealing phones

    Supposing that none of that worked and the terrorists lost access to anonymous phones, and they changed their practices, would they change them in a way that would achieve the goal?

    • by rakslice ( 90330 )

      To be clear, if you want to pass a law because you're Shocked! that people are allowed to do a thing, then you're passing the law for its intrinsic value, and it's kind of an end in itself. Great.

      If not, the goal could be as simple as "if we pass this law, every once in a while some potential terrorist that law enforcement is monitoring is going to screw up and buy a phone, give real id, and then say something about their plans, and we can put them in jail and prevent them". That's great too. If so, somebo

  • by Streetlight ( 1102081 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:35PM (#51779461) Journal
    There are some pretty cheap Android tablets out there that can use apps like Skype over the Internet that aren't really phones. Just go to a place where there is an open Wi-Fi connection and talk away. Amazon was selling their Fire tablet for something like $25 awhile ago. Might even be cheaper than a phone. Are these banned in the proposed bill? You gotta have an ID to by a cheap tablet?
    • They haven't criminalised open wifi yet? :)

      The last time I used public wifi it diverted to a EULA asking me to provide personal details and by clicking this box you agree you're not a terrorist. Then the darn thing wouldn't connect anyway!

      A local coffee shop had an open access point but you're never truly anonymous if you don't know where the security cameras lurk.

  • Not a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @07:35PM (#51779467)

    "Sir, our records showed that you purchased ten burner phones that were used for..."

    "Oh yea, those - damnedest thing, someone broke into my car and stole them. I have the police report and everything".

    The end of anonymity is nigh though, it constantly ratchets tighter every day.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:05PM (#51779613)

    Uh, this may be because of something I said...

    I called the decryption demand by the FBI stupid in front of her, and pointed out that all the Charlie Hebdo terrorists in the Paris attack coordinated with burner phones that they didn't use before or after the actual incident.

    Perhaps she didn't get the fact that they didn't turn the phones in to the local "terrorist burner phone convenience dropbox" after the event?

  • THE LOOPHOLE (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArylAkamov ( 4036877 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:05PM (#51779619)

    Getting real tired of this meme.


    Sure makes for some good fearmongering though.

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:39PM (#51779791)

    Seems to misunderstand that more "burner phones" are bought by battered women than by terrorists.

    Why do you want to see battered women die, Jackie?


  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @08:43PM (#51779819)

    Phones used in Paris were acquired hours before the attacks. The terrorists most likely had no expectation of surviving. The suicide bombers in Paris and Brussels certainly didn't. So unless this information raises a flag with law enforcement immediately, identification is pointless. The next attack will be coordinated using phones purchased with proper identification. So the next step will be to provide law enforcement with real time subscriber information from the telecoms. And maybe a blacklist, like the TSA's no-fly list, of suspects not allowed to purchase phones. Maybe a five day waiting period as well.

  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @09:32PM (#51780079) Homepage
    Require everyone have identification to purchase a phone but don't require people to have identification to prove they are eligible to vote.
  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @11:00PM (#51780451)
    When they buy the phones hours before the attack it will be completely pointless. Yet another win for terrorists as this will likely prevent nothing related to terrorism whatsoever.
  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @11:03PM (#51780467) Homepage Journal

    I'm going to have to convince homeless people and drug addicts to buy burned phones to prop up my criminal empire. Oh well, it's not really going to stop me.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.