The Washington Post reports that “legislation sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would require buyers to present identification when purchasing a prepaid cellphone and require phone companies to keep the information on file, as they do with users of landline phones and subscription-based cellphones. The proposal would require the carriers to retain the data for 18 months after the phone’s deactivation.”
Several countries have considered such legislation. Vietnam, Spain and Japan are all seeking to identify some types of cellphone users and create databases. Often, governments say this is a way to improve security, as only those with nefarious purposes would need to have mobile phones that are not linked to their identities. This argument ignores that there are legitimate reasons for people to use prepaid cellphones anonymously: whistleblowers speaking to journalists or government prosecutors, or domestic violence victims who seek to avoid tracking by their abusers.
The Post notes that “similar laws have been proposed in several states, including Texas, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.” Questions have been raised by privacy and civil liberties advocates, however.
Civil liberties advocates have concerns about the proposal, saying there must be a role for anonymous communications in a free society. […] And yet, [James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology,] said, the space for such anonymous or pseudonymous communications has been narrowed. Pay phones, for example, have largely disappeared.