Peru Set to Deactivate All Unidentified Cell Phones

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Peru plans to institute a “telephone blackout” in order to combat extortion, a widespread problem in the country commonly perpetrated via cell phones, but in the past criminals have proved able to quickly adapt to skirt similar measures. 

On June 2, Peruvian Interior Minister Jose Luis Perez Guadalupe announced a series of initiatives to combat extortion and improve citizen security, reported Peru 21. Among the new measures is a “telephone blackout,” whereby cell phones whose owners have not been properly registered with their respective telephone operators will be deactivated.

Starting June 5, everyone who buys a cell phone will be required to present an identification card and enter his or her fingerprints into a biometric database, reported El Comercio. In areas of the country without the necessary technology, buyer records will be cross-referenced with information from Peru’s national identification system. Buyers will also be limited to 10 cell phones per person so that one person’s name cannot be used to purchase hundreds of phones, as currently happens in Peru according to Perez. Then, in June 2016, all unidentified cell phones will be deactivated as part of the “telephone blackout.” 

Peruvian authorities also plan to propose legislation that would require telephone companies to report the location of cell phones used for extortion within 24 hours. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Extortion appears to be a growing problem in Peru. The country’s construction industry is a popular target for extortion networks — which often operate with the aid of corrupt police — although extortionists also go after Peru’s transportation sector and even schools.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion

In addition, local criminal groups carry out micro-extortion, threatening small businesses via cell phones, social media, or mail — often from behind bars — to coerce them into paying regular fees.

The anti-extortion measures announced by Peru’s Interior Minister are somewhat novel in their approach. While other Latin American countries have moved to block cell phone reception in and around prisons in an attempt to curtail extortion, few have implemented initiatives as far-reaching as the “telephone blackout.”

Nonetheless, the demonstrated capacity of extortionists to adapt and continue their illicit activities in the face of efforts to mitigate the crime could prevent the proposed initiatives from having a significant impact. According to a former Peruvian official, Colombia implemented a similar blackout in the early 2000s, but the results were minimal because criminals simply found other ways to obtain phones.

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