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A call for prepaid cellphone customers to be registered to stop criminals using them has been labelled an unnecessary intrusion into people's lives.

Police yesterday called for the register because criminals often used prepaid phones, which can be bought without identification, because they believe they cannot be traced and can be disposed of easily.

But Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson said the plan was over the top and could result in innocent people getting caught up unnecessarily in police inquiries.

Mr Wilson said this was not just a case where only criminals would have something to fear from being registered.

"Cellphones are lost or stolen so often, and they are also passed on or sold at garage sales on a regular basis," Mr Wilson said.

"If people who end up with the phones then use it for criminal activity the original registered owner can get caught up in a police inquiry and that can be very stressful."

Mr Wilson wondered if such a register would require anyone who sells or hands a phone on to go through paperwork similar to that needed for vehicles.

"That would just require another level of bureaucracy, and it would be yet another intrusion on people's privacy."

Detective Senior Sergeant Darrin Thomson, of the Wellington metro crime unit, said requiring people to provide identification to buy one would help catch criminals.

Vodafone said it would support a Government-mandated register and Telecom said it was open to discussions.

- NZPA