When a problem, perceived or real, arises there is only one response for statists: attacking individual freedom. As I noted last week, the knowledge that the Paris attackers used burner phones instead of encrypted communications would likely inspire useless legislation aimed at prohibiting burner phones. Jackie Speier seems hellbent on proving me right because she has introduced legislation to do exactly that:
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat representing California’s 14th district, has introduced a the “Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016,” or HR 4886, which will require people who purchase a prepaid device to provide proper identification.
“This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery,” Speier said in a blog post. “The ‘burner phone’ loophole is an egregious gap in our legal framework that allows actors like the 9/11 hijackers and the Times Square bomber to evade law enforcement while they plot to take innocent lives. The Paris attackers also used ‘burner phones.’ As we’ve seen so vividly over the past few days, we cannot afford to take these kinds of risks. It’s time to close this ‘burner phone’ loophole for good.”
Regardless of Speier’s claims, burner phones are not a significant gap in the State’s ability to prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, or modern-day slavery. Setting aside the fact that most acts of terror, negative aspects of drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery are created by the State, we’re still left having to accept the fact that pervasive communication technology has rendered any ability to control communications practically impossible.
Burner phones are just one method of communicating in a way that’s difficult to surveil. The same effect can be achieved with cloned subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Furthermore, registrations are easy to bypass. The firearm community is well aware of the term straw purchase. It’s a term that describes having somebody who isn’t prohibited from purchasing firearms to purchase one for somebody who is prohibited. By having somebody else purchase a phone for you you can avoid having that phone tied to your person. Getting somebody to purchase a cell phone for you would be even easier than a firearm since few people see a cell phone as a destructive device. There is also the fact that burner phones from overseas can be smuggled into the country and sold for cash.
Legislation aimed at prohibiting something only accomplish one thing: creating a black market. Not a single piece of legislation aimed at prohibiting something has been successful. This bill will be no different.