Burner CellPhone Alternatives by Adam Adler Cyber Defense Advisor
Adam Adler (Miami, Florida): What is a “burner” phone?
A disposable cell phone, or “burner”, can be purchased from any number of retailers and are not limited to any particular carrier. No contract is signed at the time of purchase and no personal information is needed to purchase or activate the phone. Each phone comes pre-loaded with a certain number of minutes to use and the phone can essentially be thrown out after the minutes are depleted.
How private is a burner phone?
While burners are used for many legitimate reasons, they are also used by those attempting to conduct drug crimes, because callers wish to remain “off the grid” and believe that these phones offer greater privacy protection.
Many people believe that by using burners to conduct drug crimes, there will be no linkable records to be used against those involved if they are caught by police. Users assume that because these phones can be thrown out, there is no legal connection between the phone and the user. This is not entirely true. While typically thought to be undetectable, untraceable, and truly private, calls made from burner phones are generally transmitted over existing cell phone networks (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.). This means that records of these calls are being provided to the NSA and could be linked back to the user.
It is not difficult for law enforcement and government agencies to track burner phones. By looking at when calls were made, what number they were made to, and geo-locating the user at the times of calls, police can piece together the puzzle to determine the user. The location from which a call was made is especially important, as it is easily linkable to a home address and its residents or a business address and its employees.
While burners may provide you with some level of anonymity and privacy, they are by no means untraceable. Those who use burners in connection with certain drug crimes should understand that, if caught, they may be subject to serious criminal drug charges and penalties under the law.
So what is the most secure alternative to burner cellphones?