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Govt ponders proof-of-ID law for future phone purchases

Here is your new BlackBerry, Winston Smith

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The bother of choosing between an 18-month contract or a high up-front price may soon be the least of your worries when buying a new mobile phone, because you may soon be required to prove your identity before you're allowed a new handset.

The government is said to be drawing up plans to force all UK mobile phone buyers to provide some form of identification, such as a passport or identity card - see where this is going? - before being be allowed to take delivery of, say, a shiny new iPhone or BlackBerry Storm.

When you get your phone, the fact will be recorded by the Government, which will presumably make an explicit link between phone numbers and users' ID documents.

A spokeswoman from the office of Richard Thomas, the Government’s Information Commissioner, told the Times that the requirement would apply to both contract and pay-as-you-go phones.

The passport-for-phone proposal could be added to the draft Communications Data Bill, the spokeswoman added.

In May, the Government published a copy of the Bill for public consultation - the scrutiny period ended on 6 August.

According to the Government, the purpose of the Bill is to "allow communications data capabilities for the prevention and detection of crime and protection of national security to keep up with changing technology". That involves "the collection and retention of such data, including data not required for the business purposes of communications service providers".

It said "strict safeguards" will be put in place "to strike the proper balance between privacy and protecting the public".

However, "unless the legislation is updated to reflect these changes, the ability of public authorities to carry out their crime prevention and public safety duties and to counter these threats will be undermined", the Government warned.

If the Government chooses to go ahead with the Bill - with or without the mobile phone registration option - the move will formally announced during the Queen's Speech on 3 December 2008.

Network operator Vodafone has already spoken to Whitehall officials about the plans, the paper said, as have other mobile phone firms.

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