media logos

Missouri legislator proposes prepaid phone database

Yes, legislators are at it again, trying to come up with registries for those who purchase prepaid cell phones. This time it’s in Missouri, where Rep. Ed Wildberger wants to see anyone who buys six or more prepaid phones placed into a registry to be used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. We’ve seen similar proposals by other states, though none have been able to make it work on a practical level. It appears, though, that this bill is the best of the crop.

What’s the difference? First, it only covers huge purchases. If a grandmother goes in to purchase three Tracfones for her grandchildren, she won’t be inconvenienced by the registration process. (Problems would arise, of course, if she had six grandchildren with the gift of gab.) It also places the records into the hands of the police, presumably taking the burden of storage off the retail store. That was one of the glaring problems in past proposals. As someone who has spent a lot of time in retail, I can say with certainty that records would be misplaced if entrusted with individual stores.

It’s easy to see the case of legislators and law enforcement officials. Prepaid phones are enabling criminals to break the law with greater ease. Yet more often, prepaid phones are used by individuals to, you know, communicate with the rest of society. There has to be a balance here, and forcing everyone who buys a prepaid phone to fill out paperwork and provide identification just isn’t practical. It would eliminate one of the advantages of going prepaid.

Some day, we’ll figure it out. From now until then, though, I hope we continue seeing improved bills which will help target criminals who abuse prepaid cell phones and not the consumers who use them.