The third season of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire had an important storyline about how the drug lords of Baltimore were using pre-paid cell phones, which they referred to as “burners”, to conduct their business. They would buy two at a time from convenience stores because they could purchase them with cash and provide no IDs. When the minutes were used up, they dumped them and switched to another handset, making it impossible for the Baltimore police to get wiretaps on the phone numbers because the numbers were gone before it would get through the court system.
Ever heard of life imitating art?
Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have teamed up on new legislation that would require that all pre-paid cell phones have identification information filled out when they are purchased. It was recently discovered that Faisal Shahzad, the “Times Square bomber”, used them to purchase the car and fireworks used in his failed attack. It was also eventually discovered that the 9/11 hijackers had used them, and now it has been revealed that stock brokers involved in the recent hedge fund crisis had used them to conduct their stock trades.
“Although there are many legitimate users of prepaid cell phones,” said Schumer and Cornyn’s joint statement, “they have also become the communication device of choice for terrorists, drug lords and gang members interested in masking their identities. Since they can purchased and activated without signing a contract or undergoing a credit check, prepaid cell phones provide virtual anonymity. “
It seems that there are already nine of the 24 countries in the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development that have passed similar laws. It is looking like there is a good chance this will pass, and while I am normally one for freedoms, this has seemed like a fairly large loophole to criminal activity for quite some time now. There will be some unfortunate casualties such as people on the run from abusive relationships, but unfortunately this is a time where the greater good has to be thought about.
While it is doubtful that any of the regular TechnoBuffalo readers are users of these types of pre-paid phones, you do have to wonder if there won’t be more restrictions that move up the line to the usual post-paid style phones with contracts.
Only time will tell, but things are definitely changing in the cell phone landscape.