East End Group Tells Jay Schneiderman To Drop Support for Bill Limiting Access to Cell Phones

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A bill seeking to limit access to prepaid cell phones in Suffolk County is meeting stiff opposition from groups across Long Island who say that the legislation is not only ineffective in its stated goal—fighting crime and terrorism—but that it will be injurious to people who rely on such phones, such as undocumented immigrants and domestic violence survivors.

At a June 7 meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature, I spoke against the bill, saying that if drug dealers could bring heroin from Afghanistan, then they would likely find a way to get phones from neighboring Nassau County, New York City, or the Internet, where no such identification requirements or police registry exist.

The legislation, which is sponsored by Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), was tabled at that meeting, but will likely be reintroduced at a June 21 legislative session.

Among the organizations opposing the bill is Neighbors in Support of Immigrants (NISI), an East End group that advocates for just and humane treatment of all immigrants. They recently sent a letter to Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who is a co-sponsor of the legislation (Scroll down for a copy of the letter).

I spoke with Schneiderman on the phone this morning, and he still intends to support the bill if it comes to a vote.

“We might end up creating a black market for cell phones,” Scheiderman said in a phone interview today. “That’s possible, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give law enforcement the tools they ask for.”

I asked the legislator if the various county law enforcement lobby groups, which give significant campaign contributions to all legislators, might make this bill more likely to pass.

“Nobody’s called me from the police lobby,” Schneiderman said. “They have come out and said that this is something that would be a very helpful tool.”

Exactly what the police would do with the information is another question. I firmly believe that drug dealers and terrorists would probably buy a prepaid phone outside Suffolk County if such a bill was passed.

Here’s the letter from NISI (Click here for a pdf):

A bill seeking to limit access to prepaid cell phones in Suffolk County is meeting stiff opposition from groups across Long Island who say that the legislation is not only ineffective in its stated goal—fighting crime and terrorism—but that it will be injurious to people who rely on such phones, such as undocumented immigrants and domestic violence survivors.

At a June 7 meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature, I spoke against the bill, saying that if drug dealers could bring heroin from Afghanistan, then they would likely find a way to get phones from neighboring Nassau County, New York City, or the Internet, where no such identification requirements or police registry exist.

The legislation, which is sponsored by Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), was tabled at that meeting, but will likely be reintroduced at a June 21 legislative session.

Among the organizations opposing the bill is Neighbors in Support of Immigrants (NISI), an East End group that advocates for just and humane treatment of all immigrants. They recently sent a letter to Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who is a co-sponsor of the legislation (Scroll down for a copy of the letter).

I spoke with Schneiderman on the phone this morning, and he still intends to support the bill if it comes to a vote.

“We might end up creating a black market for cell phones,” Scheiderman said in a phone interview today. “That’s possible, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give law enforcement the tools they ask for.”

I asked the legislator if the various county law enforcement lobby groups, which give significant campaign contributions to all legislators, might make this bill more likely to pass.

“Nobody’s called me from the police lobby,” Schneiderman said. “They have come out and said that this is something that would be a very helpful tool.”

Exactly what the police would do with the information is another question. I firmly believe that drug dealers and terrorists would probably buy a prepaid phone outside Suffolk County if such a bill was passed.

Here’s the letter from NISI (Click here for a pdf):

Neighbors in Support of Immigrants
P.O. Box 803
Hampton Bays, New York 11946
supportimmigrants@gmail.com

June 16, 2011

Fax to Legislator Jay Schneiderman, 631-852-8404

Dear Legislator Schneiderman,

Neighbors in Support of Immigrants (NISI), an all-volunteer grass-roots group of over 120 of your constituents, urges you to vole against Resolution 1266, “A Local Law to Register Pre-Paid Cell Phones Purchased in Suffolk County”.  This law would require consumers to present two forms of identification when purchasing prepaid cell phones; it would establish a police data base in which the personal information of these individuals would be stored.

This law would be especially burdensome to the poor.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 15% of voting age U.S. Citizens earning less than $35,000 per year (and 25% of African-American voting age U.S. citizens) do not have valid government issued IDs. Among immigrants, these figures are sure to be higher.  For the many Suffolk County residents facing long-term job loss and restricted credit, obtaining a long-term cell phone contract is not feasible; the proposed law would disproportionately burden the Latino and African American communities, which have higher rates of unemployment than their white neighbors.  Since the poor often cannot afford to purchase yearly contracts and do not have the required ID, under this proposed law, they will have no legal way to purchase phone cards.

And as you have heard in testimony from others, there will also be people who object to the loss of privacy involved with registering for the phone cards and most especially having their names become part of a police database.  Victims of domestic violence, stalking, identity theft and human trafficking are advised by law enforcement authorities to use prepaid cell phones for their own protection.  This law would make the most vulnerable among us even more vulnerable.

Perhaps you have also heard from the business community since this law will impose a substantial record-keeping burden on the small businesses that sell these cards.  They are also going to lose the income that comes from selling these cards to those that go elsewhere to purchase them or simply don’t buy them.

The likely result of this law for those, for whatever reason, can not or do not wish to provide ID to purchase the phone cards, is that an underground business will be developed of purchased phone cards from Nassau resold in Suffolk, undermining the purpose of the law and making them more costly.

For all of these reasons, NISI urges you to vote no on Resolution 1266.
Sincerely,

Sylvia Baruch, Chair and the members of NISI’s Steering Committee: Dianne Rulnick, Grania Brolin, Sister Mary Harvey, Sister Mary Beth Moore, Dick Halverson, Helen Halverson, Sally Pope, Mike Anthony, Carol Goodale


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