NEW YORK — Alarmed by the use of hard-to-track prepaid cellphones by terror suspects, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Texas Senator John Cornyn have introduced legislation requiring consumers to produce identification before buying such phones.
The bill has been praised by law enforcement and has bipartisan support, even as civil liberties groups have raised privacy concerns and some terror specialists say it won’t deter bad behavior. Schumer, a Democrat, and Cornyn, a Republican, are hoping to schedule hearings on the bill through the Judiciary Committee. Schumer has urged Attorney General Eric Holder to back the measure.
Prepaid phones can be a lifeline for people with limited incomes or poor credit, allowing them to purchase a device and a limited amount of calling time without committing to a costly contract. Phone companies sold $16 billion worth of prepaid cellphones last year, and the devices are hugely popular in both the United States and countries around the world.
But since the phones can be purchased anonymously and are thrown away after use, they’ve long been a favored tool of drug dealers, gang members, and even white-collar criminals looking to cover their tracks.
In recent years, such phones also have been linked to suspected terror activity, including that by Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused of plotting to bomb Times Square.