Speier Introduces Bill to Require ID When Purchasing “Burner Phones” and Other Pre-Paid Mobile Devices

March 23, 2016
 
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), introduced the Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, which would require people to present identification when purchasing “burner phones” and other pre-paid mobile devices, as well as requiring merchants to keep records of those purchases. “Burner phones” are pre-paid phones that terrorists, human traffickers, and narcotics dealers often use to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement because they can be purchased without identification and record-keeping requirements. This bill would close that legal gap.

“This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery,” said Speier. “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. The Paris attackers also used ‘burner phones.’ As we’ve seen so vividly over the past few days, we cannot afford to take these kinds of risks. It’s time to close this ‘burner phone’ loophole for good.”

The Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016 would place the same identification and record-keeping standards on pre-paid mobile devices as the ones that already exist on traditional contract mobile devices. When customers buy a traditional contract-based phone, they provide basic information such as a name, address, and date of birth, which law enforcement can request with a warrant in order to stop terrorist attacks or other illegal activity.

This bill would direct pre-paid cell phone retailers to collect basic ID information at the time of purchase and share that information with the cellular provider for that individual device. The information would be verified using a credit card, debit card, social security number, driver’s license number, or other information that the Attorney General finds adequate in order to have some record of the transaction. Pre-paid “burner phones” were used in the 9/11 attacks, the failed Times Square bombing, and the Paris attacks. Failure to hold them to the same standard as regular contract phones poses a serious risk to national security.

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