More unintended consequences

I ran across an article talking about a bill that would require folks buying prepaid mobile devices A.K.A. “Burner phones” to register.


As was pointed out in the article, “Burners” are used legitimately by reporters, investigators, and inside sources, for whom maintaining their anonymity is sometimes a matter of life and death.

Granted there are some criminal elements that use “Burners” for criminal activity. That’s what this proposed legislation is aimed at stopping. 

As I was reading the article a few things went through my mind.


These lawmakers are trying to demand that everyone purchasing and activating a phone be identified, and registered.

But, these same lawmakers will fight tooth and nail against a voter ID law, on the grounds that the poor can’t afford to have identification.

Yet, the primary market for cheap contract free “Burner” phones is the poor, and often the poorest of the poor, who use these phones as lifelines and methods for finding work. 

Homeless People and their Dogs Unconditional Love 3

Homeless people will sometimes have a “Burner” because they scraped together enough money to buy one, and until they use up its minutes the phone works. If they’re looking for work the phone is important even if they have no permanent address.

But if you force registration, doesn’t that exclude all of the homeless population, further disenfranchising them and forcing them further to the fringes of our society? 

Abused Woman

Then there are abused women for whom a “Burner” may be their only option, if they’re trying to escape their abuser. 

How about runaway children who might realize that a “Burner” would allow them to reach out and call their parents? They likely wouldn’t have a method to “Register” either.


Bills like this, aimed at preventing the use of phones for trafficking, anti-terrorism, the drug war, or general criminality, tend to cause as much collateral damage as the very things the Bill is supposed to prevent.

The Representatives who come up with these ideas either never knew or have forgotten what it’s like to be on the lower end of the economic ladder.

They’re like the person I encountered on New Years Eve. They’ve led such charmed lives where nothing really bad happened to them that they can’t even conceive of a situation where they might not have easy access to their ID, or cash, or communication, or travel.

Try bankruptcy, or having your house burn down with your ID, wallet, cash and credit cards inside, for a taste of what it’s like to have nothing and to be excluded from the system. For giggles, leave you house some day without your wallet, that will give you a taste.

110909114759 am wain power outage 00010023 story top

These are the spoiled brats that scream bloody murder when they can’t use their cell phones after a natural disaster. When the power goes out they’re mad because they can’t buy gasoline for their generators, and their frozen dinners have thawed. God forbid they’ve planned for anything, or know how to siphon gas out of their cars.

Remember the chaos of the great Orange County blackout? The folks in Orange County were so horribly inconvenienced they thought their lives had ended. Meanwhile the homeless folks were laughing their asses off because they know what it’s like to live daily without “Essential Services”. Hell afterward there were hearings to blame the cell phone providers for not providing service during an “Emergency”. 

The Martian

In SCUBA there’s a saying. “No matter what else is happening, ask yourself, ‘am I breathing?’ If the answer is yes, then you can set about fixing whatever else is fucked up.

The movie The Martian was an awesome exploration of that concept. “I’m alive, now how do I stay that way?


I guess since I’ve been looking at falling off the grid due to unemployment, and being a planner, perhaps these issues are more relevant to me.

Even now, my big pack downstairs is loaded with my tent and supplies in case of natural disaster, or me deciding it’s just time to walk away from a society that no longer has a place for me. And yes, there’s a “Burner” phone stashed in the pack too.

Welder 011

It’s because of my experiences that I’ve come to believe we don’t need or want a bunch of lawyers, or wealthy people in government.

We need common people because they’re far more likely to bring practicality to government.  It’s why I’m a believer in term limits, campaign spending caps, and grass roots politics.

I’d rather have a welder in congress representing me than some asshole lawyer.

At least the welder, is more likely to have his constituents in mind while he’s sitting in congress. I’ll bet someone like that is also a lot more likely to be in his seat every day congress is in session because that’s his job.

If any of this is ringing a bell with you, take the time to call these elitist politicians out on their stupid ideas. Write to them and tell them they’re idiots and explain politely why you think so.


I know I’m writing Jackie Speier (D-CA) to tell her my thoughts.