the requirement, such as stealing the devices or using other untraceable communications tools, he said. "It's a proposal that won't be totally effective against bad guys and will have significant impacts upon ordinary folks," Dempsey said.

Several states, including Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina, have tried passing similar laws and several countries already require prepaid cell phone user registration.

"We've always felt that the answer to this would be a national fix," said Kevin Cooper, a lobbyist for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, which supports the proposal. "Trying to patchwork it across the nation, because crime travels across the nation, is not as good a fix as it would be if the federals came in and did it -- the criminals don't know any boundaries."

Specifics on how customers and cell phone companies will be affected -- if more than the person's name will be recorded, how that identification will be verified, if such requirements will increase phone companies' costs and in turn the cost to the consumer -- remain unclear. Several phone messages to Sen. Schumer's press secretary went unanswered.

But one aspect is clear: If phone companies have this information, so can law enforcement. The proposal essentially expands the technologies that can be targeted in warrantless wiretap cases.

"If you look at the broad sweep of the technology we have, the space for anonymity has been shrinking," Dempsey said. "There are significant benefits to having this form of communication."



Karen Wilkinson  | 

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.