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Calling all crooks

发布时间:2019-03-07 12:05:12来源:未知点击:

By Barry Fox POLICE investigations are being hindered by the proliferation of pay-as-you-talk mobile phones. The phones offer the usual encrypted conversations, but because they work when you insert a card that can be bought for cash, callers cannot be traced. “Criminals are using these prepaid phones for a short time and then disposing of them,” says a spokesperson for Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service, which gathers intelligence for the police. Until now, investigators have been reluctant to discuss the issue publicly, to avoid alerting criminals to the phones’ potential. In Britain, one in five cellphones is sold without any contract between the buyer and a network company. In the US, where digital cellphones were slow to be introduced because there is no agreed standard, prepaid phones are still virtually unheard of. However, a few companies, such as Omnipoint in New York City, are now starting to offer a prepaid option without proof of identity. In Europe, where the GSM digital mobile standard was created, prepaid phones are becoming popular—particularly in Italy and the Netherlands—but take-up lags far behind that in Britain. The phones use the same encryption system as standard GSM cellphones, so speech is secure. Although the networks automatically log the origin and destination of all calls made from any mobile, calls made between two prepaid phones can be completely anonymous. Despite crime fighters’ concerns, no British company plans to demand proof of identity for prepaid phone buyers. The phones are just too lucrative a product for the companies to drop. “Prepaid packages are the main engine of growth in the mobile market,” says David Edmunds, director-general of telecoms watchdog Oftel. However, the encryption of cellphone conversations may put the issue on the government’s agenda. “Encryption is exploited by criminals to devastating effect. Criminal investigations have already been hampered by the use of encryption,” said home office minister Paul Boateng last week,