Last week, Karen Lorraine Jacqueline “Jackie” Speier, the U.S. Representative for California’s 14th congressional district and a member of the Democratic Party introduced a bill titled “Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016.” The said bill dictates that all individuals buying prepaid cell phones, also known as burner phones have to present ID upon purchase and its precise contents were revealed just recently and can be seen at the link below. As stated by Spier herself, the bill was drafted in order to “close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery.” The politician continued this train of thought by explaining that burner phones were used in some of the most tragic terrorist acts in modern history, mentioning 9/11, Times Square and Paris attacks as examples.
As for the exact contents of the said act, it requires all buyers of prepaid phones or SIM cards to provided their full name, date of birth, and home address. The said information is to be proven with either federal or state form of identification, a Form 1099 issued by any government agency, a W-2 Wage and Tax Statement, or any other document approved by the Attorney General. Naturally, this wouldn’t be the show-and-carry type of requirement like with purchasing alcohol for example as retailers in this scenario would keep all information about the buyer and purchased device.
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While the bill does address some legitimate concerns regarding the availability of prepaid phones, it was met with heavy criticism from the general public because it does so from a wrong starting point – by assuming that these kinds of devices are only bought by criminals. Needless to say, such an extreme approach isn’t exactly the most popular one in the moment when the entire country is in the middle of a huge privacy debate regarding encryption and as the government is trying to force Apple into creating a backdoor into all of its future iOS devices for counter-terrorism purposes. The bill is still in its introductory phase and it’s unlikely to progress any further than that considering the current amount of public backlash it’s been getting. However, the House Judiciary Committee is yet to formally react to it so this story still isn’t officially over.