WASHINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators proposed legislation on Wednesday to make it easier to identify buyers of prepaid cell phones, moving to close a loophole that had enabled criminal and terror suspects to avoid detection.
Under the proposal by Democrat Charles Schumer and Republican John Cornyn, buyers of the prepaid cell phones would have to produce identification at the time of purchase and phone companies would have to keep that information on file.
“For years, terrorists, drug kingpins and gang members have stayed one step ahead of the law by using prepaid phones that are hard to trace,” Schumer said in a statement. “There’s no reason why it should still be this easy for terror plotters to cover their tracks.”
In the most recent instance, the Pakistani-American accused of trying to ignite a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, used a prepaid cell phone to make calls to Pakistan, according to the lawmakers.
When authorities matched a phone number in the call log on the device with a number given to U.S. Customs officials, they were able to trace it back to Shahzad, they said.
“A major lesson we’ve learned from the investigation and arrest of Faisal Shahzad is that we must require individuals purchasing a prepaid cell phone in this country to provide verified identifying information,” Cornyn said.
Prepaid cell phones also have been used in alleged financial crimes. U.S. prosecutors in New York said some of the defendants in the Galleon Group hedge fund insider trading case used prepaid cell phones to avoid detection by authorities.
“We are reviewing the draft and look forward to working with the senators on this issue,” Steve Largent, the head of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by David Alexander and Stacey Joyce)