- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

From combined dispatches
BERN, Switzerland The Swiss parliament yesterday banned anonymous prepaid cards for mobile telephones after intelligence warnings that members of terror network al Qaeda were using them to make calls without being traced.
After several months of reticence, the National Council, Switzerland's chamber of deputies, joined the Senate by voting 124-27 in favor of a law forcing telephone operators to identify customers and keep records for two years.
The vote yesterday followed a warning by one of Switzerland's federal prosecutors last week that members of al Qaeda had used Swiss prepaid chips to avoid detection.
Pakistan's intelligence agency has said recent arrests of al Qaeda members there followed telephone calls traced by a team monitoring satellite and mobile phone conversations of terrorist suspects.
The Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to be the third most influential member of al Qaeda and who was arrested in Pakistan recently, used a cell phone fitted with a Swiss card.
"It is true that we said members of al Qaeda, people who work in the field as well as heads … were using this kind of prepaid card from Switzerland," Deputy Attorney General Claude Nicati told Reuters news agency.
Police and justice officials had been demanding the change for several years, saying that the limited, fixed-charge cards also were favored by drug traffickers and other criminals because they could be bought over the counter in hundreds of small shops and from news agents without providing identification.
Swiss Justice Minister Ruth Metzler recently estimated that prepaid cards had been used in 528 cases involving organized crime, including all recent drug-trafficking prosecutions.
Authorities said prepaid cards had thwarted attempts by investigators to identify callers during criminal probes, even though their telephone numbers were known.
The move is aimed at bringing prepaid cards more into line with standard mobile phone subscriptions, which are only sold directly by telephone operators.
The change was opposed by the Green Party and several conservative deputies, who said the move was disproportionate, and would harm individual freedom and lead to invasion of privacy.
One of Switzerland's telephone operators, Sunrise, warned that customers could still use false passports when they bought a prepaid card in small shops.
Critics said users could simply switch to other countries that do not require names for buyers of the chips that operate telephone handsets.
Opponents said only Germany, Italy and Hungary register users of the chips in Europe.

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