Thursday, Apr 24th

Last update:24-04-2014 21:29

Italy: Citing Mafia Financial Troubles, Jailed Boss Says “Get A Real Job”
Italy’s economic crisis is hitting the Sicilian Mafia as well, say law enforcement officials in Palmero, Sicily.
Russia: CEO of ‘Russian Facebook’ Says He Was Ousted
Pavel Durov, the CEO of Russia’s most popular social media site Vkontake (VK), said on Monday that he was ousted by...
Mexico: Councilmen Describe Life of Fear Under Knights Templar
Councilmen from Michoacan have recounted life under a mayor who was in cahoots with Mexico's Knights Templar criminal...
Caribbean: Cocaine Trafficking Continues Rise Say US Officials
The proportion of drugs trafficked through the Caribbean has more than tripled in the space of five years, according to US...
India: Election Officials Seize Cash and Drugs Used To Buy Votes
Since March 5, Indian election officials have seized US$ 36 million, 2.7 million liters of alcohol, and 100 kilograms of heroin...
Kurchenko May Have Tried to Transfer Assets to Russia
Serhiy Kurchenko (middle) and Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky (right)...
Former President Had Big Plans
By Kateryna Kapliuk, Slidstvo.info Would you like to stay in the Kyiv hotel of...
Ukraine: The "Family" Business of a Mezhygirya Contractor
By Maksym Opanasenko (Bureau of journalistic investigations “Svidomo”)...
Arkan, Bojović Associate Murdered
Rade Rakonjac, Arkan's murdered former bodyguard  By Stevan Dojčinović ,...
How Kurchenko's offshores worked
By Anna Babinets People who used to know young billionaire-in-exile Serhiy...
Hungarian Media Law Doomed
19 January 2011 By Tamás Bodoky The widely criticised new Hungarian...
Google is Not Your Friend
  The internet is a powerful tool in the service of investigative...

Cell Phones Ideal for Crime

Tuesday, 11 August 2009 01:00
Print PDF

crime_scene_phone

Disposable phones, as anyone who’s watched the addictive HBO police drama The Wire may know, are ideal for criminals. They can buy the phones anonymously, use them for a week or so and throw them away before police figure out the number, much less get authorization to tap the phones.

 

Countries around the world are trying to take technology out of criminals’ hands, using methods that range from abolishing the anonymity of pre-paid mobile phones to jamming phone signals in prisons, where some of those phones get heavy use. The authorities say the measures will fight crime. Critics warn of privacy invasion, and the wireless industry says jamming isn’t the only way to keep phones out of inmates’ cells.

Mexico, Greece and South Africa are the latest countries to require those who buy pre-paid mobile phones to show identification and be entered in a national register. South African law, which came into effect last month, requires sellers to record the buyer’s name, address, phone number, passport number, and to check their passports and look at a bill to confirm the address. Greece also has required buyers to register their identities as of last month. Mexico’s law, in effect since February, added a clause that stipulates that identities of all prepaid mobile phone users will be entered in a national register that will store call logs, text messages and voice messages for one year. The information will be available by court order.

Smugglers, Kidnapers Benefit

Authorities said that fighting crime was their main reason for making the change. “The types of criminals who prefer prepaid phones include drug dealers, immigrant smugglers and blackmailers,” said Greek communications minister Evripidis Stylianidis. Prepaid phones were also used in an illegal wiretapping operation that included the phones of  the prime minister and other senior officials during the Athens Olympics in 2004. In Mexico, a country riddled with kidnappings, extortion and drug cartel violence, the law’s sponsors noted that around 700 criminals groups were using such phones to arrange extortion and kidnap ransom payments.

Other countries are thinking along the same lines. Kenyan authorities are mulling similar laws. UK officials late last year said they were planning to require photo identification for pre-paid phones, and to create a national registry as early as next year. In the US, registration is on the radar so far only at the state level – a Missouri state representative earlier this year proposed a bill that would require anyone buying six or more pre-paid phones to show a photo ID.

Why this is coming up now – nearly a decade since mobile phones have become de rigueur  for many people worldwide – is because there’s a time lag between what criminals come up with and how authorities respond, said an expert on technology and crime.

Criminals Adapt to Tech

“Criminals have always exploited technology. The most competent criminals are very adaptive, and will use new technologies to their advantage,” said Peter Grabosky, a professor at Australian National University by e-mail. “Governments tend to be reactive, and wait until problems arise before addressing them. In most democratic societies, the legislative process is rather cumbersome.”

Governments’ laissez-faire approach to technology is to be expected, he added. “A ‘hands off’ or ‘light touch’ approach to regulation may be more conducive to full commercial development of emerging technologies, with attending social and economic benefits,” he said.

The new rules haven’t been without critics. UK officials in the Home Office warned the Times last year that the database plan is impractical and potentially unlawful. Privacy advocates aren’t keen on what they see as the “Big Brother” aspect of such databases.

The wireless industry has also objected to another government attempt to rein in technology – rendering mobile phones useless in prisons by jamming the phone signals. Prisoners worldwide are using smuggled phones to continue their crimes, from running illicit businesses or gangs to ordering hits on witnesses slated to testify against them. In the US, prison authorities have confiscated tens of thousands of phones from inmates in recent years – 3,000 in California alone last year.

The US may soon join India, New Zealand, Ireland and other countries that allow phone-jamming in their prisons. A Senate bill, the Safe Prisons Communications Act, was recently approved by committee and may come to a vote before the end of the year.

While CTIA, an international non-profit that represents wireless providers, agrees completely with officials on the need to stop prisoners from using mobile phones, they disagree with jamming. They advocate alternatives to jammers, such as cell detection, a way to pinpoint illicit phones so prison guards can root the phones out. Managed access, another alternative, involves a bay station that allows only certain authorized phone numbers to use the signal.

Industry Suggests Alternatives

“Jamming sounds appealing – it knocks out all communications,” said CTIA director of regulatory affairs Brian Josef in a telephone interview.  He advocates other measures.  “With the cell detection and managed access, it gives the corrections community and their internal investigations arm the ability to investigate. They can go out and get a legal wiretap, figure out who’s talking to whom, (and) the network of criminals involved.”

Josef noted that the DEA was able to charge 24 people in Maryland in April – including four allegedly corrupt prison employees – after a wiretap on prison phones revealed evidence of drug trafficking and extortion inside and outside the prisons.

“Jammers are only dealing with the symptom,” he said. “We also think you can deal with the source of the problem, by increasing and strengthening the criminal penalties for people who are supplying those devices. Having strong rules on the books would be a deterrent to getting those devices smuggled in.”

--Beth Kampschror

 

 

Related Stories

Re:Baltica Completes Series on Latvian Health Care System
The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica, an OCCRP partner, has published the last installment in its series about the health care...
Trafficking and Terrorism: How Organized Crime Thrives on Passport Fraud
By Ana Baric Passport Stamps. Photo Credit: Flickr. Jon Rawlinson The March 7 disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane one hour into its flight...
Colombia: A Country Torn Between Peace and Corruption
By: Maria Virginia Olano In Colombia, it is no secret that laws and rules there can be bent and moved around, especially with a couple of bills in...
Press Persecution in Azerbaijan: Where Investigative Journalism Is “Espionage”
By Ana Baric Azerbaijan is maintaining its usual approach to press “freedom”: sponsoring pro-regime media and unapologetically repressing...
Venezuela: The Battle Against a Corrupt, Authoritarian State
By Maria Virginia Olano It was supposed to be the day Venezuela celebrates its young people. Instead, three students were killed, more than 70...