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Texas Senate waves through cell phone wiretapping bill

Harder to buy pre-paid cell phones, easier to bug

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A bill extending wiretapping provisions to cell phones and covering a wider range of crimes - including kidnaping, human trafficking and money laundering - has been approved by the Texas Senate.

Only murder, drug-related crimes and child pornography investigations are covered by existing lawful interception laws in Texas, AP reports. Wiretaps authorised by the proposed laws could be used to authorise the tracking of suspect's mobile, land line and online activities in multiple locations; unlike current laws which are location specific.

The draft Homeland Security legislation also places tighter controls on the sale of prepaid phones. Retailers will be asked to keep records of customers in a move that means prepaid phones can no longer be bought over the counter without ID. Customers will have to supply their name and address, date of birth or Social Security number, while sales would be limited to five prepaid cell phones at a time.

Police in Texas were also given the legislative go-ahead to use CCTV footage at toll booths to prosecute crime.

Sen. John Carona, the architect of the bill, argued that the legislation would help police to fight organised crime and terrorism in the state. Critics said the measures extended crimes labeled as homeland security issues too far.

One Democrat senator voiced concerns over whether the bill infringed Texans' civil liberties, particular the friends and relatives of suspects, but the proposals ultimately received the unanimous approval of the state's upper house. The bill was passed down to the House of Representatives in Texas for further consideration. ®

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