It Is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone


This is now the law of the land:

*PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.

That’s right, starting this weekend it is illegal to unlock new phones to make them available on other carriers.
I have deep sympathy for any individual who happens to get jail time for this offense. I am sure that other offenders would not take kindly to smartphone un-lockers.

But seriously: It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that we are at the mercy of prosecutorial and judicial discretion** to avoid the implementation of draconian laws that could implicate average Americans in a crime subject to up to a $500,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

If people see this and respond, well no one is really going to get those types of penalties, my response is: Why is that acceptable? While people’s worst fears may be a bit unfounded, why do we accept a system where we allow such discretionary authority? If you or your child were arrested for this, would it comfort you to know that the prosecutor and judge could technically throw the book at you? Would you relax assuming that they probably wouldn’t make an example out of you or your kid? When as a society did we learn to accept the federal government having such Orwellian power? And is this the same country that used jury nullification against laws that it found to be unjust as an additional check upon excessive government power? [The only silver lining is that realistically it’s more likely that violators would be subject to civil liability under Section 1203 of the DMCA, instead of the fine and jail penalties, but this is still unacceptable (but anyone who accepts payments to help others unlock their phones would clearly be subject to the fine of up to $500,000 and up to five years in jail).]

When did we decide that we wanted a law that could make unlocking your smartphone a criminal offense?

The answer is that we never really decided. Instead, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to outlaw technologies that bypass copyright protections. This sounds like a great idea, but in practice it has terrible, and widely acknowledged, negative consequences that affect consumers and new innovation. The DMCA leaves it up to the Librarian of Congress (LOC) to issue exemptions from the law, exceptions that were recognized to be necessary given the broad language of the statute that swept a number of ordinary acts and technologies as potential DMCA circumvention violations.

Every three years groups like the American Foundation for the Blind have to lobby Congress to protect an exception for the blind allowing for books to be read aloud. Can you imagine a more ridiculous regulation than one that requires a lobby group for the blind to come to Capitol Hill every three years to explain that the blind still can’t read books on their own and therefore need this exception?

The Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far): It Is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone - Derek Khanna - The Atlantic


More ridiculous intellectual property crap.


I always tell people that they can determine how little the governments commitment is to enforcing a law can be measured by the fine they threaten to impose on those who ignore it.

Big fine means they have no way to enforce it so they hope to scare you into compliance, this fine is from 500,000 to 1 million dollars and ten years in prison.



Well, yes, because you signed a contract to say you wouldn’t. Note that it still isn’t illegal to unlock it once the contract expires. Or if your provider allows you to unlock it.

Not sure how they’ll enforce it. They probably won’t.


In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking mobile phones would no longer be allowed.
This is the procedural how of it in a nutshell, Trekky. It wasn’t illegal before Jan. 26.

I don’t recall seeing such a thing in my contract.

It’s just more intellectual property crime committed by the government, the same government deciding right now whether a gene can be patented.

It appears to me that it is only at the carrier’s discretion, regardless of whether a contract has been completed, that you may unlock a new phone unless you buy an unlocked phone.

The new policy only applies to new locked phones purchased after Saturday, January 26, 2013, meaning it will still be legal to unlock phones purchased before January 26 without permission.

But the final ruling says there are more options now for obtaining an unlocked phone than in previous years. Many phones are available unlocked for full price, and carriers do have policies in place for unlocking phones. Currently the rules vary from carrier to carrier.

For example, AT&T will unlock an iPhone for current or past customers as long as all contracts have been fulfilled. And Verizon’s iPhone 5 is usable on AT&T’s network.

However, it’s unclear whether carriers will tighten these rules about unlocked phones in the future.

Read more: New Smartphones can’t be unlocked without carrier’s permission, law changed


As of Saturday, it became illegal to unlock your cell phone. That means, even if you own it outright, you can’t alter the device to make it to work on another carrier without risking a fine.

The broadly written Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it illegal to create devices or services that allowed people to sidestep technology protecting copyrighted works. It was mainly geared toward digital rights management tools of the day that prevented you from making multiple copies of downloaded songs or DVDs.

But the Library of Congress, tasked with carving out exceptions every few years under the law, has excluded unlocking cell phones several times because, well, it has nothing to do with copyrighted works!

It’s roughly equivalent to declaring that you can plug your TV into Comcast cable service, but not Time Warner. The only difference is that, in the case of phones, your carrier often subsidizes the initial purchase price. And that’s where the industry is hanging its argument.

Read more: Law bans unlocking of cell phones - SFGate


Definitely thought this thread was saying it was illegal to like “swipe to unlock” your Iphone. I feel just completely idiotic now.


You gotta love the reading to the blind thing too.


Unlocking your cellphone has been illegal since 1998, but they have just been exempting it. See this post on Android Police Carrier-Unlocking Smartphones Will Be Illegal In The U.S. Tomorrow: Here’s How (And If) It Affects You and this post on /r/circlebroke It’s the end of the world! Amerikkka has banned the unlocking of cellphones! : circlebroke