I spluttered a mouthful of cornflakes all over The Sunday Times last
weekend when I read the hilarious front page story that prepay mobile phone buyers will be required to show a passport, or some other formal ID, before they can buy a prepay mobile “under new Government plans”.
The story claimed: “Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance. The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40 million prepaid mobile phones who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details”.
It’s probably just a try-on being leaked by some lackey at the Home Office to take the temperature of public opinion and then file into the “Dumb Ideas” filing cabinet under “Nice Try – But Doomed To failure”.
Sure enough the backlash was swift. Within a day, there were 244 angry comments about the proposal on The Times‘ website.
The plan is so flawed it can’t possibly form the basis
of any coherent security policy (mind you, count nothing out with the mob currently running the country). It seems the powers-that-be just cannot abide the thought that people who use prepay mobiles can escape their surveillance.
Where to begin? For a start, criminals and terrorists do not usually pay much heed to frivolities such as handing over ID when buying a phone. If they want a mobile, they’ll just steal it or buy it in another country.
Or, shock, horror – they will use fake ID.
The simplest way to stay off the Government’s surveillance radar would be merely to buy a used prepay phone privately. If the original purchaser registered their name and address, just slot in your own SIM card and – presto – you’ve bypassed Big Brother.
The rest of us who don’t want our movements tracked by GCHQ need only visit eBay. Customers are not going to pass on passport details to an “eBay” seller.
In fact, unless you pay cash for a mobile phone and top-ups the Government knows exactly who you are anyway. It just asks the nice man at the credit card company where you live.
The curious thing about this Sunday Times story is not that it is yet another ill-conceived plan by useless politicians incapable of joined-up thinking. The interesting aspect is that The Sunday Times ran such a preposterous notion with not a scintilla of a rebuttal or analysis.
For example, Vodafone was named as one of the networks in talks with “Whitehall officials” about such a prepay register.
As one pundit commented on The Times‘ website: “Since Vodaphone (sic) appears to be the cell phone company being most co-operative about this piece of Stasi surveillance legislation may I suggest that Vodaphone (sic) users change to another provider?”
Yet Vodafone promptly denied it was in the frame saying: “Vodafone does not support mandatory registration for its prepay customers and has not made any ‘contingency plans’ to start requiring registration for the purposes of a Government data collection scheme.
“Prepay services hold an important role in terms of preventing a digital divide in communications. There is no need for a credit check and if customers do not have a permanent base, or official forms of ID such as a passport, they are not excluded from using mobile services.”
Back to the drawing board for the Spooks then.
*Stop Press: The New Zealand Herald reports:
Police are calling for prepaid cellphone customers to be registered on a national database to stop criminals using the phones.
Criminals are known to use the phones, which can be purchased without identification, because they believe they cannot be traced and can be disposed of easily.
Detective Senior Sergeant Darrin Thomson, of the Wellington metro crime unit, said the phones provided a “significant challenge” for police and requiring people to provide identification to buy one would help catch criminals.
“The use of prepaid cellular phones is a common use amongst the criminal fraternity, particularly at the higher level, and anything that would help us thwart that anonymity would be fabulous,” he told The Dominion Post.
Vodafone said it would support a government-mandated register.