Friday, April 18, 2014

Proposed House bill would store buyer info on prepaid phones

By ELISE REUTER, KU Statehouse Wire Service | 2/12/2014

In an effort to combat drug and trafficking crimes, the House Committee on Utilities and Telecommunications proposed a bill Wednesday that would track the purchase of prepaid cell phones. If House Bill 2441 is enacted, buyers would be required to produce a name, address and a valid ID at the time of purchase.

The information, along with the mobile equipment identifier, would be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and stored in a repository of information for two years. Law enforcement officials say the match between the cell phones and IDs will help track suspected drug dealers.

In an effort to combat drug and trafficking crimes, the House Committee on Utilities and Telecommunications proposed a bill Wednesday that would track the purchase of prepaid cell phones. If House Bill 2441 is enacted, buyers would be required to produce a name, address and a valid ID at the time of purchase.

The information, along with the mobile equipment identifier, would be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and stored in a repository of information for two years. Law enforcement officials say the match between the cell phones and IDs will help track suspected drug dealers.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, a Republican from Douglas County, compared the bill to legislation requiring an ID for the purchase of Sudafed, which was implemented to discourage the drug’s use in making methamphetamines.  

“We have tried to balance the individual’s rights with the need for public safety,” Sloan said at Wednesday morning’s hearing.

Law enforcement officials hope the bill will reduce organized crime by making it easier to track repeat offenders who often use prepaid devices to stay under the radar.

“Many of the people that use these use it to enhance their illegal endeavors and hide their identity from law enforcement,” Ed Klumpp, legislative liaison for the Kansas Sheriffs Association, said. “This is mostly true with people who are involved in ongoing criminal activities.”

Cases involving prepaid phones include crimes of harassment, child pornography, human trafficking, burglaries and homicides, Klumpp said. Often, the criminals involved provide fictitious names and addresses, such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, making them more difficult to track.

“This bill, if passed, will definitely have a positive impact on public safety and law enforcement,” Klumpp added.

However, opponents of the bill were not so easily convinced. Some were concerned about the encroachment of officials on private information, while others worried about the cost.

“Once upon a time it was guns, and now some folks are trying to make it knives, and now you’re trying to make it a cell phone,” state Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said. “It seems like the privacy of the many is compromised for the crimes of the few.”

While all purchasers’ information is stored, law enforcement would have to file a subpoena to access the data, by connecting the cell number to the phone. They would have to go through a secondary subpoena process to obtain the name of the purchaser, according to Kurt Thompson, KBI director.

However, the financial details of the bill are a bit murky. A “mobile communications device identification fee” of 0.4 percent per transaction would be used to cover the costs of creating a repository of information for KBI, as well as $300,000 borrowed from the State Highway Fund.

In a fiscal note attached to the document, judicial costs could range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 if the bill is challenged on the basis of the First or Fourth amendments. The bill also would be in conflict with the Streamlined Tax Sales Agreement, which prevents the state from imposing replacement taxes on several items including prepaid wireless services. This could result in a loss of $42.7 million if it is determined the state is not in compliance.

The bill might also violate the Federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits wireless providers from disclosing information regarding its customers or subscribers, according to Beth Cooley, Director of State and Legislative Affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association.

Cooley expressed concerns for the effect the bill would have on consumers and retailers. As cell phone bills have increased, many users have switched to prepaid phones to save money. According to Cooley, prepaid is the fastest growing segment of the wireless market, where nearly one in four cell phone users are prepaid consumers.

“It could limit consumer access to important communication services,” Cooley said. “There would be onerous administrative duties imposed on the sellers of these devices.”

If passed, the bill would be enacted on Jan. 1, 2016, to give KBI and cell phone distributors time to prepare.

comments powered by Disqus