Friday, January 13, 2006

Color me skeptical

The blogosphere is seemingly alight with the ABC News story of terrorists possibly stocking up on disposable cell phones. Link courtesy of Michelle Malkin, who has more here.

Power Line has an excellent point that this could be in response to the New York Times' one-year-later revelation of NSA wiretapping. The same entry also notes a reader's excellent problems with the police report: it looks too clean, not scanned, and there are lots of improper or completely nutty entries. Victim "United States of America," for example.

Even before I saw the report, I was skeptical. I'm not saying it's impossible for terrorists to stock up on the phones, but at this time I'm reserving judgment. For one, when someone says that these men looked Middle Eastern, how much value can we put in that? I've said before that most Americans still can't tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese people. Then there's the problem of terrorists who don't look Middle Eastern at all, or who look like us: my "Spot the terrorist" quiz and see how many of them appear of Middle Eastern descent. Add to the list the Belgian woman who was a suicide bomber a few months ago: from the pictures I saw, she looked white, not Middle Eastern.

I'll ask my Wal-Mart PR contact, Marshall Manson, if he knows of any Wal-Mart spokesmen confirming such details. That part really got my attention.

The important lesson is that vigilance remains with the people, not government. If this story is true, it was a private business that notified authorities of suspicious purchases that would have defied the closest FBI and CIA scrutiny. Now, considering that this type of cell phone has been used before and has lost no usefulness at all, it is prudent for U.S. intelligence to continue monitoring purchases. However, we're dealing with a system that tends to compensate for imperfect surveillance with extreme legislation. What will the federal government do now, place restrictions on how many disposable cell phones you can buy at a time? Will it require stores to photocopy ID cards (which can be easily faked) or even get additional information to do background checks, like we do with guns?

The free market, not surprisingly, has the solution: Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers are (or should be) perfectly free to set their own limits on how many of these phones a single person can buy. They should also be able to demand documents, based on their own rights as owners of the property, to get cell phone buyers' ID documents, or put a waiting period of whatever length they'd desire. However, we know the ACLU would cry racism. Actually it's strictly a matter of private property rights: a private establishment should be able to set whatever conditions it would like, including refusing to sell to anyone they do not wish to sell to.

More to come later when I get home.


Anonymous Standard Mischief said...

Well, seeing as these phones are the “weapon of choice” for identity thieves, and in light of the brouhaha over that “annoy” VoIP/maybe/maybe not bill, I can totally see a “War on Anonymous Free Speech”.

What would Publius do?

Sunday, January 15, 2006 3:50:00 AM  

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