Cracking Down on Prepaid Cell Phones

It’s a sad thing when people who are supposed to have some level of intelligence show none of it.

That is how I feel about the latest from Washington, a place of bad ideas, where little is done to squelch them before too many people can hear and jump on the bandwagon.

Two senators have decided that it is too easy to get a prepaid cell phone and further your terrorist wishes, so everyone wishing to buy one must now be properly identified and tracked.

The problem with this is that the majority of cell phone users who use prepaid are honest, law-abiding, and have no terrorist tendencies (except perhaps when they hear how their elected representatives are using the time they have in Washington). Those few who are trying to do illegal things are going to find other ways of communicating, whether it is through different means, such as the use of two-way radios (also known as ham radio or citizen’s band radio), or resorting to the theft of already registered cell phones. This does not even touch upon the idea of cloning.

Obviously, there are more difficulties with each of these plans, but the newspapers show us each day how motivated these people are, and so any sort of change in the method of purchase of a prepaid cell phone is merely a small bump in the road for the committed terrorist.

What changes is the difficulty for honest people to live their lives in a less hassled manner, and the companies selling the phones would have to change the prices, to reflect all the paperwork and fact checking required. Who knows – there might have to be a 3 day waiting period to buy a prepaid cell phone, just so the regulations could be satisfied.

The article tells of how many other types of criminal activity have gone forth using the prepaid cell phone as a means of communication between the perpetrators. There is even a case cited where insider trading occurred using prepaid cell phones for communication.

While all of this is certainly true, putting the onus on the seller of the phones is not going to deter any but the least motivated among the criminal element. As I noted above, there are other ways of communication, including using levels of obfuscation, such as wireless communication with a netbook, having wireless 3g connectivity, with a coded word system, carried by Twitter.

The example simply shows that where there is a will, there is a way, and other factors should be considered before inconveniencing the greater public, for an undoubtedly small reward, in very narrow circumstances.

It is ludicrous to think we will stop communications between operatives of these organizations. Instead, we should be concentrating efforts on things like packet inspection and pattern recognition of intercepted communications.


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[special thanks to Reuters for disallowing any quotation of material]

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