Pre-paid cell phones may be outlawed

This session of the 111th Congress has been one that will go down in infamy by virtue of its assault on privacy and other civil liberties.  Several of these problematic provisions have not yet made it to President Barack Obama’s desk, but in today’s political environment, resisting them will be difficult.  Many in the Congress still tremble as a result of the Times Square bombing attempt; even as many also remain gripped by the hysteria surrounding the as-yet unproven Toyota rogue acceleration problem.

The latest civil liberties victim of Times Square Brainiac Faisal Shahzad’s feeble attempt at terrorism fame is the pre-paid cell phone.  This innocuous device, available now to virtually anyone wishing to buy a cheap cell phone useable for a limited period, represents perhaps the last opportunity for a person to communicate anonymously.  Yet, these devices are being targeted for extinction by a pair of United States Senators simply because the failed Times Square bomber used one in his preparatory activities; and law enforcement discovered this not because the purchase of the cell phone was recorded in an accessible database, but because Shahzad made at least one call to a number already on a government list of suspected terrorists.

Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer now has teamed with his Republican colleague from Texas, John Cornyn, and introduced a bill that would employ the heavy hand of federal law to prohibit anonymous cell phones.  Leaving aside the question of where the Congress finds authority in the Constitution to do this, it is certain that many of their colleagues will jump at this latest chance to prove they are as tough on terrorists as the next guy, whatever the cost to the rest of the citizenry.

While Sens. Schumer and Cornyn may believe that the only people who purchase prepaid cell phones are terrorists, the fact is, many average, law-abiding citizens use such devices regularly.  Some people do so because they may not have the funds or the creditworthiness to buy a cell phone with a network plan.  Others may do so precisely because of the anonymity such phones offer; something especially important for journalists to be able to protect communications with their sources from being revealed.

No matter to Schumer or Cornyn.  To prevent one possible bad guy from purchasing a single prepaid cell phone, they’ll use their power as senators to prevent anyone from having one.

The Times Square incident is not the only reason the Congress is seeking to curb the rights and privacy of all Americans.  The hysteria resulting from last spring’s Toyota recall has energized the Congress to accelerate a move to require “black box” computers in every new car sold in America.  This legislation, which was recently passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is likely fast-tracked for an election-year floor vote, not only will add to the cost of a new vehicle but raises a host of privacy problems for the owners and drivers of such vehicles.

In typical fashion, the House committee left it up to bureaucrats at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to decide what information the black boxes will monitor and record. The actual owner of the vehicle will not know what information about his car or his driving is being recorded, or who will have access to the data.

In perhaps the most outrageous assault yet on Americans’ civil liberties this Congress, the House recently voted (with no Democrats and only 32 Republicans opposed) to greatly expand government’s ability to forcibly collect DNA samples from persons simply arrested for alleged criminal behavior.  The measure does this by giving taxpayer monies to any state that passes a law doing the federal government’s bidding in this regard.

One shudders to contemplate what the next Congress will do to match or exceed the anti-civil liberties record of this one.

73 comments Add your comment


June 7th, 2010
6:22 am

Also, if you’ve ever traveled to Europe, you will find countries like Germany make it difficult to get prepaid plans. You need to put in your address, which confuses the systems expecting German addresses. Hop over to Belgium, and you can get a prepaid SIM card at the train station with just 10 Euros in cash. This law will prevent a lot of non-citizens from getting prepaid phones, and it’s just another false sense of security to complicate this system.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin


June 7th, 2010
7:23 am

Senator Schumer has been good about protecting civil liberties. He sponsored the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act in 1998 which became law. That law made crimes against minorities much more serious. He has been in the forefront in protecting the rights of abused children. Sometimes, he appears a little too perfect on the TV, but he is ambitious and adamant when it comes to protecting people’s rights.

As far making prepaid cell phone plans illegal, and DNA analysis required for even minor infractions of the law, to me, that is going too far.

What I would like is for Faisal Shahzad to be tried as a terrorist. “Who ever, owing allegiance to the U.S., levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the U.S. or elsewhere, is guilty of treason.” 317 U.S.[1942] He should be judged by tribunal.

Ted Striker

June 7th, 2010
7:37 am

Those proposed bills are outrageous infringements on civil liberties.

p.s. Anyone who thinks an intelligent criminal can’t steal a vehicle or a cell phone is naive.

Speed Racer

June 7th, 2010
7:39 am

And virtually no citizens will protest the outlawing of pre-paid phones. The people of this country do not REALLY want freedom.


June 7th, 2010
7:41 am

Come on Barr, the progessive liberals must enforce socialism on America. This is simply one more step in doing so. I consider progressive liberals the same as terrorist. Explain the difference if you think I am wrong.


June 7th, 2010
7:46 am

Secure our borders and do their jobs in intellegence and we would not need to worry about a 30 dollar per month prepaid cell phone now would we?


June 7th, 2010
7:50 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.


June 7th, 2010
7:52 am

What is next? Cash! Terrorists pay with cash!! Carrying large quantities of cash can already make you a suspected drug dealer. Spending it will make you a suspected terrorist!

bill h

June 7th, 2010
7:56 am

A large majority of the US and world population live with prepaid sim cards….some buy new cards (thus numbers) when their load expires; and some keep the sim and just add load to it. These users could never afford or qualify for monthly plans. And yes, most of them have jobs. The Senators have always had someone else to pay their bills. This is a highly discriminatory concept that disregards the needs of the average, poor, hard working person. I think we need to spend more time figuring out how Police or Federal agents let a bummed out college grad with no criminal saavy slip a professional survellance operation

David S

June 7th, 2010
8:01 am

One can be sure that if the next Congress is composed of a majority of republicans it will only get a whole lot worse. One need only look at the 8 years under Bush to confirm that.


June 7th, 2010
8:03 am

We allowed those idiots to sign over our lives when we allowed them to past the Patriot Act. Might as well allow them to do everything in our lives. I have nothing to hide, do YOU?


June 7th, 2010
8:12 am

When did the Constitution come back in to play? 1/20/09?


June 7th, 2010
8:32 am

We really are just a couple of laws away from living in a “police state”. And all this time I thought that the Hollywood movie plots were just for entertainment…..

Chuck Allison

June 7th, 2010
8:35 am

IF you bathe your conscience in secular education, then you will become a liberal with absolutely no moral compass.

Rodney S.

June 7th, 2010
8:41 am

To the commenter who suggested that cash will be next… you’re exactly right. It will. The government must know everything that we do.


June 7th, 2010
8:42 am

How ’bout we just limit the sale of these phones to people who “look” like terrorists??

david wayne osedach

June 7th, 2010
8:49 am

Who has the most to lose? The poor who have to prepay for everything

Sam ( The Cool 1 )

June 7th, 2010
9:15 am

The Cisco Kid and Poncho never used cell phones and our borders were safe. Man! I wished we had those guys back. It was alot safer back then.


June 7th, 2010
9:42 am

Let me get this straight – You “conservatives” don’t want anyone infringing on your “Civil Liberties” then when you are in power do you best to limit the lives and civil liberties of people who:
Don’t look the same as you
Don’t worship the same god as you
Don’t marry the opposite gender like you did
Don’t make as much money as you have
Women who want control over their own bodies (yet you want control over your own if you end up in the hospital)
Worst of all when you idiots are in power you steamroll your agenda and get bipartisan support on things that make sense when when the “Evil liberals” are in charge, EVEN IF SOMETHING MAKES SENSE TO SUPPORT, you all block it “to make a point”
The problems in the Gulf are BP’s fault and the President should be doing more to show outrage and support for the area. No Katrina was NOT W’s fault. However W’s flyover of the area (he didn’t even land to survey damage) and letting people suffer for almost a week in total chaos before doing much about it is 100% his fault.
I guess when you can’t find something nasty on Obama, you’ll talk about how Clinton lied and should have been impeached – a charge led by a bunch of conservatives who (surprise, surprise) lied to and cheated on their wives. Then if you tire of that you’ll talk about how awful Carter was, because its only been a generation since Carter was in office so what happens today HAS to somehow be his fault, huh?
Remember this – Ronald Reagan was one of those “Elite” Hollywood types you people hate so much. He was a Democrat, one of those “Evil Liberals” you people always complain about. After he switched parties and became President he dreamed of a world where everyone could be rich, powerful and WE HAD NO ENEMIES and NO NUCLEAR ARMS (”Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) He was willing to flex the American muscle without actually using force. Suppose this situation in the Middle East would have turned out better if Reagan had been in charge in 9/11. Instead a former cokehead accountant who found god and was assigned his first presidency by the courts led this country into a period of time that the American Dream turned into the American Nightmare. This was 2001 – 2006. When you “Conservatives” were in complete charge. Can’t blame the “Evil Liberals” for 2001 to 2006 can you? But thats ok. Keep drinking your GOP flavored kool-aid.
Us in the middle (not far left tree huggers and not far right Palin worshipers) want OUR COUNTRY BACK – where neither party let the idiots and wingnuts control them.


June 7th, 2010
9:44 am

Currency will be done away with.

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Rev. Ch. 13 Vs. 16-17.

This prediction was difficult to understand 50 years ago. We sit by and do nothing while our leaders destroy our civil liberties under the guise of preserving our safety.

Big Jim

June 7th, 2010
9:47 am

I agree with Cutty!! Why did the gov’t go haywire when Obama became Pres.? This train was in the process of derailing long before this guy was conceived!! Do you really believe the “Boogeyman” or “Big Brother”
was born when Barack Obama was elected!!! Folks,any Gov’t that doesn’t
maintain control of it’s citizens, can maintain control!!! We are just stupid puppets, activated by “buzzwords” like freedom,liberty, and Constitutional!!!


June 7th, 2010
10:10 am

I love the AJC Blogs! The comments are the reason that most Americans consider us all stupid, unintelligble hicks! Perhaps, when considering the idiots that spout off here, they are right!


June 7th, 2010
10:28 am

And a few more of our Constitutional rights get whittled away.


June 7th, 2010
10:34 am

I think all American’s should have the right to buy a prepaid cell phone as long as we have registered their name and number in our government database. I will address this issue as soon as I return from the NBA finals. Before my next tee time, can someone please let me know how things are going with the oil spill in the gulf?


June 7th, 2010
10:46 am

I tell ya Barry, I flewed over the gulf in 2005. I saw lotsa water and brown (people) too, so I didn’t stop. Then I went on vacation. There is a saying, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, then, you wont get fooled again” After choking on my pretzles and waiving “Mission Accomplished” I decided to make sure my rich buddies were taken care of after I screwed my slack jawed redneck constituents.

See how much fun it can be to make fun of who is in charge based on race and current events?

Peter Haskett

June 7th, 2010
11:14 am

Just to clarify: the US govt has never considered the right to buy a pre-paid cell phone to be a fundamental right or a “civil liberty.” The supposed state interest in this is to protect the US from terrorisms. IOW, the “security” of which Ben Franklin spoke. But make no mistake, this is pure corporatism, or more to the point, pure fascism. My prepaid cell costs me $20 every 3 months. A plan would be about $60 per month. AT&T and Verizon want everyone to enroll in a plan and ditch the prepaid. I don’t believe there ever was a Time Square bomber. This entire episode was contrived by both public and private people who want your money.

Big Jim

June 7th, 2010
11:18 am

Bible thumping Jesus-freaks,Rep or Dem, are the reason politicians get away w/ murder.You are the people who look for a powerful entity to save you!!! Folks think that their God/political choice is more righteous than the next!!!

Amy in the ATL

June 7th, 2010
11:18 am

Excellent rant, ROFL. There are a LOT of us in the middle who remain concerned with rights regardless of who is the president. (And as much as I disagree with many of Barr’s positions, he does maintain his consistency as well, which I appreciate.)

It’s high time for those of us who AREN’T on the far side of both political spectrums to stand up, speak up, and demand rational policy-making. But unfortunately, until the GOP decides to grow up and become more concerned about governing the country as opposed to utilizing wedge issues to divide the electorate in order to win elections, we’re not going to make much progress. And that’s a shame, because there was once a time when GOPers were truly concerned about fiscal matters, effective governance, and privacy rights. With that element gone from Congress, we just have the “Party of No” vs. the “Party of Hey Let’s Try It!” with nothing to really balance the two.

colin campbell

June 7th, 2010
11:42 am

@ Peter;

You are exactly right in that it is coporatism at work. Straight class warfare. One more step in our gradual move to serfdom.


June 7th, 2010
11:48 am

How many BP employees does it take to stop a leak?…… None, apparently.


June 7th, 2010
11:52 am

Throw ALL the bums out, including the tea partiers! Prepaid cell phones for everyone! Stop using your ATM and use cash. That’ll get them!

Swede Atlanta

June 7th, 2010
11:58 am

I don’t often agree with Bob but am in complete accord with him on this. Outlawing pre-paid cell phones will not address the problem. Pre-paid cell phones are not responsible for people who want to harm us. This was an intelligence failure.

Plus there are many Americans who for a variety of reasons cannot or do not want to subscribe to a monthly cell phone service. These include those with no or poor credit and elderly who maintain the cell phone only for emergencies.


June 7th, 2010
11:58 am

Does anyone remember the Stasi, the information gathering agency used against the citizens of East Germany, which was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world? Welcome to the Stasi States of America.

Big Jim

June 7th, 2010
12:04 pm

Hey,lunatic John, this ain’t Germany!!! Obama ain’t Hitler!!

Big Jim

June 7th, 2010
12:09 pm

If our rights were being taken away suddenly, why are untouchable perverts like NAMBLA still allowed to exist? This all-powerful gov’t
that people are afraid of can’t seem to stop these dirtbags. Perhaps if conservative windbags informed you, people would care!!!


June 7th, 2010
12:49 pm

Thanks Amy. Nice to see that there are people in the world capable of thinking from both the left and right side of their brain. The party of “Don’t infringe my civil liberties while my party infringes on yours” really needs to go. It will hafta be done via generational change though. Because nobody wants congress to have term limits we need to wait for these old geezers who still wish blacks had their own bathrooms and schools to die off so maybe the “fresh” thinking of those born after the fall of Saigon (hey! another war where we felt the need to fight an intangible idea until it bitterly divided the country…) may actually come into play. Imagine those people who ACTUALLY can use a computer legislating internet law – or imagine laws no longer based on race – because as much as both parties fight the issue I was raised in the 70’s and 80’s to treat everyone equally regardless of race – because maybe for once WE PRACTICE THE BEST IDEAS WE PREACH TO OUR CHILDREN. Goodbye Grampa. Time for new blood to take care of the country. Stop doing what you can to make yourself re-electable and DO YOUR FREAKING JOBS and FIX THE COUNTRY INSTEAD OF “NO”THING!


June 7th, 2010
1:05 pm

To EVERYONE Comparing Obama to Hitler -
Hitler had better PR. Pretty sure he had Karl Rover working for him.
Hitler also had the support of the German Equivalent of you conservatives – people who want to blindly follow a political movement to make sure “their” Country retains their thoughts and ideals. A common cry of a “German Redneck” after WWI – “I want my country back!”.
You may consider Obama to be Hitler.
You “Conservatives” don’t seem to follow that you’re the Nazis, do you? You only want whats is best for “your country” and “your party” and want to control everyone and everything else. Pretty sad, huh?

June 7th, 2010
1:15 pm


Actually, both parties have been working together for many years to get us where we are today.. Its kind of sad that a majority of the American’s actually believe what we are being told in our media outlets, which are being controlled by our government. Both the Democratic, and Republican parties need to be dismantled!!

Barr's blog

June 7th, 2010
1:19 pm

Barr is……WRONG! The only reason anyone would want to buy a prepaid cellphone is if they’re a terrorist or a chronic crank caller. I’m sick of people calling me and asking me if my refrigerator is running. I fall for it every time. It’s high time somebody did something so hats off to the two senators Cornyn and Shumer.


June 7th, 2010
1:27 pm

The Democrats are not innocent, but most of the people who spend their time on these blogs always talk about “Evil, Mindless and Stupid Liberals” when they fail to realize that their GOP/Nazi party is just as guilty on things, if not more.
It should be COUNTRY FIRST. Right now the “Conservatives” are the ones more guilty of practicing “PARTY FIRST”. There should be solid term limits, no perks like lifetime insurance or lobbyist dollars, and a viable 3rd party for the majority of the country that aren’t wing-nuts (tree hugging or tea bagging) to have a voice and representation. The far left and far right will destroy this country. The current administration is on the left, yes, but nowhere near the degree of the last administration and just how far on the right they were 2001 to 2006. They made marriage an election issue. The party of “Don’t infringe on my civil liberties” trying to infringe on another persons civil liberties.

June 7th, 2010
1:46 pm


Obama is to the Left what Bush was to the Right… Two Wrongs will not make a Right!!! That pendulum is swinging farther and farther with each election… Come on, Our police can herass us for anything these days, such as, not wearing seatbelts in our own cars, holding a cell phone while driving, having a tent on your windows, we can even go to jail for possessing certian plants ??? We are not Free, we have not been free, at least not during my 33 years on this planet!!


June 7th, 2010
2:09 pm

Freedom is nothing more than an illusion. I am also 33 and the son of a former DEA agent. Police can harass for anything, and it sucks. As far as those certain plants, that “War” on drugs was Nixons doing. Another GOP tactic to blindly fight something instead of trying to fix it. I am sure that “war” on drugs has something to do with window tinting, and cell phones would be allowed in cars if the typical driver WOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD.


June 7th, 2010
3:13 pm

I feel that I have the country on the right track…even if we outlaw prepaid cell phones. I am sure that you all know that a provision of my healthcare bill is for all wealty americans…and that means those of you that have enjoyed the windfall of a company paid healthcare plan, starting in 2011, you will now pay an income tax on the healthcare benefits your employer provides you. So all you wealthy people making $75,000 a year and your employer is paying your health benefits, your taxes just went up and you should be happy about it. If not, call me from a prepaid phone before they are outlawed.

[...] Phones June 7, 2010 terrorism No CommentsFormer Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr notes that Faisal Shahzad’s Times Square bombing attempt might be a causus belli for the federal [...]

[...] occasionally writes things that are a bit wacky, but I liked this piece, in which he is annoyed that pre-paid cell phones are going to be illegal soon. To prevent one [...]


June 7th, 2010
4:45 pm

Actually, despite the Iphone news, most carriers agree that all the growth in the telecom universe has come from prepaid plans. So, given that this is part of the economy that benefits people and creates jobs… of course Congress wants to outlaw it!

"Information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment" - BHO, May 1, 2010

June 7th, 2010
5:07 pm

Libertarians and Tea Party folks aren’t too far apart Mr. Barr. The United States are doomed if we don’t act decisively this November and in the next 2012 cycle.

Rightwing Links (June 7, 2010)

June 7th, 2010
8:30 pm

[...] Pre-paid cell phones may be outlawed [...]


June 8th, 2010
5:23 am

Well, I’m living in Ireland right now and have a prepaid phone. It’s working out fine for my business, since my accommodations and associated services are paid for by contract by my company. I just go online and top up my account when necessary.


June 8th, 2010
7:31 am

John Cornyn is usually a smart guy. He should know this is a bad idea because Shuck Chewmore likes it.