US Lawmaker Wants To Make It Illegal To Buy A Burner Phone Without ID

House Lawmaker Wants to Make it Illegal to Buy a Burner Phone Without ID

US House Representative Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) has put forward a bill that will require retailers to ask for identification from anyone buying a prepaid mobile phone. The bill, called Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, is designed to "close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery", according to Speier.

The bill will require anyone purchasing a "pre-paid mobile device or SIM card" to provide:

1. The full name of the purchaser. 2. The complete home address of the purchaser. 3. The date of birth of the purchaser.

Retailers would require a Federal or State ID, a W — 2 Wage and Tax Statement, a Form 1099 from the Social Security Administration or other government agency or any other document so deemed eligible by the Attorney General. Retailers would then be required to keep a record of this information, along with information about the phone.

You can read the full text of the bill here, and Spieler's statement on her website.

The bill, introduced on March 23, has some good intentions - some basic restrictions on the availability of pre-paid mobile phones addresses some legitimate concerns from the law enforcement community.

But, it leads with the assumption that pre-paid mobile phones are bought exclusively by criminals. Certainly, television shows such as The Wire and Breaking Bad have used their fair share of cheap mobile phones, which are used once before they're crunched under the heel of someone hell bent on committing crime.

But, these phones are cheaper, and that makes them attractive to large parts of the population: the elderly, poor or people who just want don't want to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a high-end mobile phone with an expensive contract. Journalists use such phones in the course of their work, to say nothing of people who have legitimate reasons for not wanting to be tracked, like abuse victims. This bill would leave a paper trail that will undoubtably put some of these people at risk, either from individuals attempting to track someone down, or from an opportunistic hacker who can use the personal data for their own gain.

That's what makes this bill especially worrisome: it requires retailers to retain quite a bit of personal information - somewhere - for at least 18 months, while not mandating any sort of privacy or security requirements to make sure that that information is safe. As written, its requirements are vague, and it's a privacy disaster waiting to happen.

Speier cites the fact that burner phones were used in terrorist attacks such as 9/11, Paris and Times Square, but ignores the fact that these are an incredible minority of instances.

[Jackie Speier, GovTrack]

Photo: heinsbergsphotos / Shuttershock



    On please, if you're going to post a hand wringing article about being tracked by the government, at least do it somewhere where it's not already a law.

    Since ID can be faked by criminals, this is one of those laws that puts everyone else at risk while the minority being targeted continue unencumbered.

    We've had that law in Australia for many years now, and it's circumvented all the time.

    Nobody in a servo or supermarket is going to hold up the line while your check out operator fills out a paper form (or worse, scans your ID).

    Mobile phone shops do this every day, but bigger low cost high volume retailers aren't going to bother.

    For reasons already outlined in the article, for small town America this is a very bad idea.

      or you could just like buy one second hand off craigs list or gumtree, just an idea.

        I think the idea is not so much the phone itself, but the sim card. the phone is no good without a sim card, but prepaid phones always come with a sim card. This is why they say phones as well as sim cards that are sold separately. If someone is stupid enough to sell an active sim card which is associated to their identity, then they'll learn a harsh lesson.

        If you sell a second hand phone, you take out the sim card to put in your new phone.

      Supermarkets and large retailers have separate counters where this can be processed without holding up check out lines. Supermarkets only stock phones and sim cards at the service counter where smokes are sold and this is often staffed in addition to checkouts. department stores process these sales at the electronics counter.

      As long as the form to fill out is precise and straight forward, then there is no problem.

      Obtaining that information is still subject to the necessary warrants and court orders.

      I've bought a couple of pre paid burner phones lately. I've never used the SIM but they don't get your ID in any way. They leave that for the telco.

    The US shall welcome a new Golden Age of fake IDs!

    So does this mean an Australian travelling in the US wouldn't be able to buy a pre paid SIM card? Sucks to international roaming.

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