Mexico to Cut Off Unregistered Prepaid Cell Users. Will the U.S. Follow?

Mexico is gearing up to disconnect nearly 30 million unregistered prepaid cell-phone users this weekend, as part of a new law aimed at fighting crime, according to a Reuters report.

Prepaid phones are the preferred communications device of terrorists, drug dealers and other criminal types because they don't require users to register their identification with the carrier.

Trouble is, other everyday folks use them too. These range from people who want to keep a tight rein on their wireless bill by buying a set number of minutes, to infrequent cell-phone users and folks who prefer their privacy.

Anti-Crime Effort

Mexico passed its cell-phone registration law last year, after a spike in media reports of taxi-passenger kidnappings, as a way to deal with organized crime and drug trafficking in the country. But despite the government's pleas in the past several weeks for users to text in their registration information and identities, a large chuck of people have yet to do so, and the deadline is Saturday.

Mexico's wireless market leader America Movil (AMX), which holds 71% of the market and is controlled by the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, is reportedly asking the government to extend its deadline. Telefonica (TEF), meanwhile, is planning to keep things status quo, despite the new law taking effect and having nearly 7 million of its users still unregistered.

Mexico isn't alone in its move to mandate cell-phone users to register their identities. Japan, Greece, South Africa and Nigeria also have made similar moves in the past couple of years, according to various reports.

Similar Rules Proposed in the U.S.

And in the U.S., state lawmakers from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have tried to get similar legislation passed, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

Other states, such as Michigan and Georgia, have proposed legislation to require prepaid cell-phone users to show their photo ID before purchase, but that has yet to pass.

But civil liberties need to be considered here. Add another issue for the American Civil Liberties Union to tackle.

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