Everyone who buys a mobile telephone in Britain will be forced to register his or her identity on a national database under government plans to massively extend the powers of state surveillance.
Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest British government move to create a surveillance society.
A compulsory national registry for the owners of all 72 million mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime.
Government officials have raised the idea of a registry containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone, the leading cellular-service provider, and other telephone companies, insiders say.
The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain's estimated 40 million prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit-card details.
The pay-as-you-go phones are popular with criminals and terrorists because their anonymity shields their activities from the authorities. But they are also used by thousands of law-abiding citizens who wish to communicate in private.