Isn't time to get rid of the pre-paid terror cell (phone)?

Isn't time to get rid of the pre-paid terror cell (phone)?

Summary: According to The Register: An eagle-eyed Wal-Mart clerk in Caro, Michigan may have foiled a dastardly terrorist plot simply by alerting police to a suspicious purchase made by three men of Middle-Eastern descent, the Associated Press reports. Police are holding the men on terror charges because they bought 80 pre-paid cell phones in violation of Wal-Mart policy, which limits to three the number of phones one can buy....

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TOPICS: Mobility
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According to The Register:

An eagle-eyed Wal-Mart clerk in Caro, Michigan may have foiled a dastardly terrorist plot simply by alerting police to a suspicious purchase made by three men of Middle-Eastern descent, the Associated Press reports. Police are holding the men on terror charges because they bought 80 pre-paid cell phones in violation of Wal-Mart policy, which limits to three the number of phones one can buy....In the van the men were driving, police found an alarming cache of nearly 1,000 cell phones, which "can be used as detonators....Adham Abdelhamid Othman, Louai Abdelhamied Othman, and Maruan Awad Muhareb now face felony charges of collecting material to support terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target with intent to commit terrorism.

The story describes how such phones are sometimes purchased in large lots and then stripped of their prepurchased air time (which is worth more than the phone) for resale at a profit and how terrorists have probably been trained to use that scheme as their excuse if they get caught with a cache of phones. 

By the way, this isn't the first time this has happened. Practically the same thing happened in Southern California last December. Regardless of which reason it is (terrorism or funky reselling scheme), it seems like the downsides of allowing pre-paid cell phones far outweigh any benefits.  I'm not saying that eliminating them is a silver bullet to the problems that cell phones can cause. There are obviously lots of ways terrorists can lay their hands on cell phones. But why make it easy? I don't know why, but his makes me think of how the courts put 321 Studios out of business for publishing DVD copying software (as if the courts can keep a lid on that sort of software).  If we're that worried about copyrights that we can put a company out of business, how about national security?

Topic: Mobility

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34 comments
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  • I'd like 2000 cell phones please

    I only need 1 minute on each . . .

    I agree with your assertion - Prepaid = Problem.
    Roger Ramjet
  • But, prepaid is right for many people

    Lots of people I know want and use the pre-paid phones so as not to have a monthly bill. Believe it or not lots of people don't use a cell as anything other than an emergency device or only use it while traveling.

    If you only use a cell every few weeks then pre-paid is the only thing that makes sense.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Good point.

      You posted while I was typing the same observation.

      Well said!
      Anton Philidor
    • You can eliminate prepaid phones...

      only when you eliminate cellco "bondage" via service contracts.

      I use a prepaid phone exclusively. No service contract, no monthly payment and excellent service. Did I mention that I only pay sales tax on the minutes I buy?

      Want to know why prepaid phones get the very best service?

      It's because they know you can go to Walmart and buy a competitor's phone in less time that it takes to read this. It's the only cell phone sales model that provides REAL competition because once you're in a service contract, there is no longer any market place. If your services sucks, too bad. The only way out out is a large penalty or wait a couple of years. Then, once the contract ends, you can try another cellco. But if prepaid phones are no longer available, then you must sign another contract and hope for the best.
      msolgeek
    • Good point

      Not to mention those people with horrid credit who can't afford several hundred dollar's for a deposit.
      Shelendrea
      • By this reasoning we should ban all cell phones

        Don't forget the family with kids that can't stay off the phone. If they need one, and may do, get them a prepaid one. It'll teach them how to budget.

        As to getting a regualr cell phone account all they need is an Id and someone's credit card so there is nothing to prevent the terrorists from using regular phones either. They might have to become a bit more inventive. So I guess we need to ban all cell phones.
        rdhalsteatzd
  • Oh, and there is a HUGE number of people

    that don't have credit (or good credit) so they buy the pre-paid phones. In many cases it's the only way to get a cell phone.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • I was about to mention that...

      I estimate that less than 25% of the people I know can get a cell phone with less than a $400 deposit. The joke is, if they had $400 for a security deposit, they would have better credit to begin with. The neighborhood I live in runs on calling cards. It also has many, many payphone (one of the best indicators of a not-well-off neighborhood is a lot of payphones, people with money have cell and/or land lines). Then again, my neighborhood also has a methadone clinic right next to where I do my laundry...

      If it were not for pre-paid phones, most people in Third World countries would not have access to cell phones, which (as shown by [i]The Economist[/i]) have a greater impact than computers by a huge amount in terms of helping the economies of poor countries.

      Cell phones are like aby other technology. In and of themselves, they are neither good nor evil. They simply exist. You cannot restrict their use for evil, without being willing to restrict their use for good. Would anyone in their right mind advocate the elimination of artificial fertilizers, simply because fertilizer contains the major chemical ingredients of a bomb? Should we forbid people from renting moving vans, because of the Oklahoma City bombing? Of course not.

      Let's get real. Pre-paid cell phones are not the problem. Ban the pre-paid cell phones, and terrorists will just use identity theft to get cell phones to use for detonators.

      J.Ja
      Justin James
  • judge, jury, and executioner

    funny how this post just assumes that the defendants are guilty of govt. charges against them. apparently, their appearance is enough? maybe they were just cell phone scammers. easy with how you throw around the T word!
    vivabenfica
    • Not assuming their guilt...

      first, I didn't assume the implausibility of their explanation.. in fact, I considered it a possibility. but even their explanation equates to an unintended usage (abuse) of "the system" which is why I [i]asked[/] if maybe the downsides outweight the benefits (noted by others here).
      dberlind
      • Guilt?

        This begs the question, were they guilty of anything, particularly as far as the phones are concerned? Is purchasing the phones and reselling the minutes illegal? Intent should not enter into the equasion. If it isn't illegal then they did not abuse anything. If it's against the TOS for the phone then it becomes a civil matter. After all isn't the "American Way" buying low and selling high. Well...unless it's me buying and selling stock.
        rdhalsteatzd
  • Prepaid cell phones save a lot of money...

    ... compared to monthly plans if one rarely uses a cell phone. The savings in a family can be $100 a month.

    There are families to whom that amount of money matters a great deal.

    But the prepaid cell phone pricing plans could be changed without problem. Given that the bad guys could buy any cell phones if they want mechanical devices, that's the main issue.
    Anton Philidor
  • And if you don't have a land line.

    Every vendor of cell phones (with a contract) I know of requires you to have a "home phone" which many people don't have. Pre-paid is their only real option if they want a cell.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • No problem here

      Two cellphones (me and my wife), contracts, no home phone.

      Lack of a landline is getting more and more common.
      rpmyers1
  • When terroists force us to do anything

    They have won...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • again the T word

      again, the assumption that they are bad guys, because of where they are from? sheesh
      vivabenfica
      • again the T word

        Hey, it's not paranoia if they're really out there figuring ways to kill you.
        bstalli397
      • They are from Texas - scary huh?

        Hard to say what these three men were up to.

        I suppose that Wal-Mart should impose a "one phone per visit" rule and then enforce the rule (easily done through the computer software that runs their cash registers).
        WiredGuy
    • Have you

      Have you *been* to an airport in the past five years??
      bmgoodman
  • Terror device or peace of mind?

    I know I was considering one of these as an emergency phone for my wife to be able to call roadside assistance in emergencies. I have a cell phone but we wanted to avoid a fixed $30 monthly charge for a phone that will hardly ever be used.
    gpaul@...