Tax investigation service to tap "burner phones"

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The fiscal intelligence and investigation service FIOD will soon have the capability of tapping prepaid cellphones themselves. Prepaid phones are widely used by criminals as so-called "burner phones" as they are anonymous and therefore harder to tap.

Minister Henk Kamp of Economic Affairs, which includes telecom, made this decision and announced it on Monday, NOS reports. The date on which this new capability will be implemented has not been announced yet.

To eaves drop on prepaid phones investigation services have to use special equipment to specify who is using what phone. This specialized equipment is called IMSI catchers. Currently the FIOD has to go to the National Police to use IMSI catchers, but the equipment is often not available or there is no one available to operate it. For this reason FIOD's capabilities are being expanded. The service will soon be allowed to purchase and use the equipment itself.

IMSI catchers mislead prepaid phones by pretending to be a GSM mast. If the phone connects to the equipment, the catcher can retrieve a special code that is linked to the phone number. Once the phone number is known, the phone can be tracked and investigators can listen in to conversations on the phone.

The government hopes that this extra capability will make the FIOD more successful in detecting money laundering, environmental crime and illegal animal trading.