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Proposed legislation would require registration for prepaid phones

It was only a matter of time before the federal government got involved in regulating prepaid phones. Apparently, it took an attempted bombing in Times Square to get them to hustle on it. AFP reports that lawmakers introduced a bill yesterday that would require users to present ID when purchasing prepaid mobile phones, and for the cellular companies to actually track user information, as they do with postpaid accounts. While the powerful telecom lobby will likely put pressure on congressmen and senators to vote down the bill, it could still be a hard fought battle at the capitol.

According to the AFP report, it’s the carriers that will bear the burden of maintaining information about prepaid accounts. Many previous proposals suggested that the retailers should keep track of who purchases what phones in their stores. Carriers don’t make as much money from prepaid customers as they do postpaid, and will certainly not welcome the added cost of maintenance that would come with prepaid phone record keeping.

Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx) put it well when he said, “While most Americans use pre-paid mobile devices lawfully, the anonymous nature of these devices gives too much cover to individuals looking to use them for deviant, dangerous means.”

None of what Cornyn said is false, but I’m doubtful that this type of legislation will solve the problem. Instead, telecoms and retailers should work together to form the best possible plan to solve the specific problem at hand, that of tracking. The government knows little about the industry. The industry knows plenty. I think they’re in a better position to conjure a solution than the federal government.