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House OKs Cellular Phone Protection

February 26, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House voted Thursday to prohibit the possession of sophisticated equipment that can modify cellular phones so calls are charged to someone else.

By 414-1, the House approved the measure aimed at helping law enforcement crack down on so-called cell phone ``cloning.″ The Senate approved a similar bill Nov. 10, and the two chambers will have to craft a compromise measure.

Cell phone cloning costs business, consumers and the cellular communications industry more than $500 million annually, the legislation’s proponents said. The practice lets people avoid paying for telephone calls and it is also used by drug traffickers, terrorists and gang members to avoid detection, they said.

``The vote today is a win for every American who owns a cellular phone,″ said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, one of the bill’s chief supporters.

The legislation would make it illegal to own, produce or sell phone cloning devices, and impose a penalty of up to 10 years on people convicted of the crime. The equipment would be legal only for law enforcement officials and the telecommunications industry.

Currently, people found with the equipment can be prosecuted only if they are caught in the act of cloning a phone, making prosecution difficult.

The only no vote was cast by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. He believes the measure would wrongly shift the burden of proof to accused individuals, violating the country’s traditional doctrine of presumed innocence, said spokesman Michael Sullivan.

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