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Lawmakers pushing to make owning an unregistered prepaid phone illegal

If this bill passes, anyone who purchases a prepaid cell phone will be forced to register their identity with their device.

Published onMarch 25, 2016


There’s a new bill in the works called the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, and if it passes, anyone who purchases a prepaid cell phone will be forced to register their identity with their device. The proposed law is being pushed forward by Jackie Speier, a Democratic representative from California.

Although proponents of the bill are touting it as a solution to close a “loophole” that is functioning as an “egregious gap in our legal framework” that aids criminals and terrorists, those against it are claiming that it is an unnecessary breach of personal privacy by the state. The bill was introduced earlier this week and has not yet been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. Whether or not it will gain momentum has yet to be determined.

WhatsApp next on the government's hit list in the great encryption debate

This isn’t a lone battle in the theater of war that is personal privacy in the mobile world. Federal forces are attempting to make Apple and other smartphone makers install backdoors that would allow law enforcement agencies to easily access confiscated devices, and more regional attacks on encryption have been occurring in both New York and California at the state level. One California bill proposed earlier this year, for instance, would make it illegal to own a smartphone with encryption in 2017. In all of these cases, flags of terrorism, sex trade, or drug trafficking have been touted as reasonable reasons to reduce the individual rights to privacy of the population.

What makes this bill particularly troubling is that the vast majority of prepaid phones, often called “burners,” are used for completely legal reasons. It’s true these devices as they currently exist give users a high degree of anonymity, but they are also used people with lower incomes who can’t commit to monthly billing. Moreover, journalists and researchers enjoy using these devices because they insure confidential conversations with sources.

What do you think of the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016? Would forcing prepaid device owners to file with a national registry be a reasonable step to ensure our safety and well-being, or is it a further intrusion into ever diminishing privacy? Let us know your take in the comments below!

Tech companies rally to Apple's side in encryption debate

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