Burner phones, or those prepaid phones you can buy at a supermarket and put minutes on at your convenience, may soon be a thing of the past. Despite the leisure of having the pay-as-you-go attitude, burners are often in the hands of those who need them for one (possibly sketchy) purpose, and then dispose of them. They require no identification to purchase, may be purchased with cash, without a contract, and allow the user to have a random new phone number (ultimately giving them a power they never had before). Besides burner phones coming to light during the show “The Wire”, criminals have long been using them for certain illegal activities then dumping them (they’re considered “burned” when they are too risky to use anymore). Besides the fact that burner phones are used by not only criminals, but regular folks who require disposable phones for one reason or another (my mother has one because she doesn’t have enough use for a cellphone to warrant a month-to-month contract), the fact that they exist might officially be too risky for society. Therefore, some serious legislation may push the burner phone species to a quick extinction. That, or it will do its best to finally keep these things out of the hands of criminals, the same criminals that used such burners during the second wave of Paris attacks late last year. The legislation was proposed by California Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA, 14th) of the San Francisco and Bay Area district, who in a Facebook post, said the 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”. The bill would enforce a new law for anyone and everyone who buys a cheap burner phone, pre-paid smartphone, or pre-paid SIM card in the United States to register it with a personal ID. The draft bill, the Closing the Prepaid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016, has already been referred to the House Energy and Commerce, and Judiciary committees, and tends to come at a time where more than the dialogue of just burner phones has been in circulation. Similar worries are surrounded around highly encrypted devices, such as the latest Google software on Android devices, or the recent issues Apple had when faced with warrant for criminal data stored on surrendered iPhones. Apple has been unable to feasibly bypass a user’s locked iPhone passcode and turn it over to the government, nor does the tech giant feel it would be in the right to do so. Like the burner phone ban, smartphone companies (like Apple) could be heroes in the fight against criminals and terrorists. Unfortunately, that isn’t how most people who want their privacy protected feel (no wonder the Justice Department ended up dropping its case against Apple). To end, if the bill were to pass, burner/pre-paid phone retailers will require a “federal or state ID, a W-2 statement, a form 1099, or any other official document deemed as “acceptable by law enforcement”, resulting in the customer’s name, address, and date of birth permanently being in a database, according to Extreme Tech. In the end, investigating crime will be made easier, which is why law enforcement most certainly endorses it, so let’s hope the bill passes out of the House Judiciary Committee soon, and legislation moves quickly. Sometimes we must face the fact that some technology is too dangerous to keep around.
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