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ID Proposal for Prepaid Phones Raises “Privacy, Access and Safety” Concerns

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 By Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY, Contact
June 13, 2011

NEW YORK - A measure intended to crack down on drug dealers and would-be terrorists is drawing fire over privacy, access and safety concerns.

The Suffolk County Legislature is considering a requirement that buyers of prepaid cell phones provide two forms of identification before making the purchase, and that local retailers hold onto that information for at least three years.

Jessica Glynn, supervising attorney for the Latino rights group SEPA Mujer, says the proposal violates a number of privacy rights, particularly for victims of domestic violence.

"There are serious safety concerns when a victim's identity is being kept by someone with no training whatsoever on domestic-violence issues, or on how to keep a record."

The measure would have major negative impacts for both documented and undocumented immigrants in the county, says Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"The concern is that people who don't have credit histories, who are low-income, generally buy prepaid cell phones - and won't have access to those vital lifelines."

Last week, Suffolk County lawmakers shelved a plan that would have required local employers doing business with the county to screen workers through the controversial E-Verify system. Glynn hopes that move signals a change in direction on immigrant issues.

"I hope that some of that momentum really translates to this cell-phone bill, and folks realize that to catch would-be criminals, it is misguided and it has these really terrible unintended consequences."

The measure may come up for a vote next week. Supporters say it will help local police track down criminals. Glynn says domestic abusers often exert control over their victim's personal identification, so the measure could prevent victims from obtaining their own phone while faulty record-keeping could help an abuser locate a victim.

Text of the measure, Suffolk Leg IR 1266, is online at legis.suffolkcountyny.gov.

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