More users than ever are concerned with their mobile privacy these days, taking steps to secure their data like encrypting phone storage, running VPNs, and being mindful about what kind of personal data they voluntarily share with the companies behind apps and services. All that may be well and good, but at the end of the day you’re still carrying around what’s essentially a mobile tracking device registered in your name – pretty much the worst nightmare of any privacy-minded folk. The desire to separate your phone service from your identity has led to the proliferation of so-called burner phones: inexpensive devices that are paid for and used without the user disclosing their identity. Now a US congresswoman is looking to put a stop to what she describes as the burner “loophole,” introducing a bill that would force all phone users to positively identify themselves.
When you think “burner phone,” the first thing that comes to mind may be some cheap dumbphone, the most advanced piece of software on which is a challenging game of Snake. But in recent years we’ve really seen prices take a nose-dive on lower-end smartphones, and you can pick up a fully functional prepaid model at a price at which some users would probably consider it disposable.
More than that, though, it’s no problem to pick up an anonymous prepaid SIM and pop it into an existing handset.
California Democrat Jackie Speier sees burner phones as little more than the tools of terrorists, slavers, and drug dealers, and wants to require user registration at the point of purchase; her announcement of her bill offers no admission of there even being circumstances under which a phone-user might have a legitimate interest in privacy.
Perhaps we shouldn’t panic until the full text of the bill becomes available, or at least until we have a better sense of the odds it has at becoming law, but the days of anonymous phone usage may soon be drawing to a close.