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California Lawmaker Wants to Require IDs to Purchase ‘Burner’ Phones

The San Francisco lawmaker’s bill could accelerate law enforcement’s criminal investigations, but it could also leave a dangerous paper trail, creating entirely new problems like identity theft.

Image via cc ((Photo by Daniel Chee/The Skyline View)

House Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) thinks criminal activity should be easier to track. On the heels of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, she introduced a bill that would require retailers to collect the personal data — full name, home address and date of birth — of all prepaid cellphone buyers.


“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,” writes Speier in a statement.

Called the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, Speier’s bill could do more harm than good if passed. Because it calls for retailers to keep detailed records for at least 18 months of everything from buyers’ W-2 tax statements to their Form 1099s, while mandating no security or privacy requirements whatsoever, buyers’ personal information is at risk of being hacked. Likewise, the proposal adversely affects non-criminal pockets of society, including seniors and low-income families, who buy burners because they’re more reasonably priced that phones tied to contracts, and journalists and abuse victims, who avoid contracts to maintain anonymity.

The San Francisco lawmaker’s bill could accelerate law enforcement’s criminal investigations, but it could also leave a dangerous paper trail, creating entirely new problems like identity theft. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York proposed a similar bill to Speier's in 2010, which didn’t even make it to the Senate floor. Will privacy win again?

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