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Unlocking phones without carrier permission illegal in US

updated 07:29 am EST, Mon January 28, 2013

Practice punishable by fines, imprisonment, for unlocking

Phone unlocking without carrier permission is now illegal in the United States. A 90-day transition period, permitting the practice after an exemption added to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was reversed in October, has now run out, something that now forces customers to either ask and potentially pay carriers for unlocking services, or to buy phones that have been unlocked beforehand.

The exemption was put in place after a campaign by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2010, according to TechCrunch. Three exemptions were applied for, including making jailbreaking legal and the renewal of an existing exemption that permitted phone unlocking. In October, the US Copyright Office and the Library of Congress reviewed and then overturned the unlocking exemption, citing the relative ease for consumers to either get an unlocked handset or to unlock a phone through a carrier. A 90-day transition period was then put in place, which has since ran out.

Penalties for unlocking, as outlined by CTIA, range from the carrier's "actual damages and any additional profits of the violator", to a court-awarded statutory damages of between $200 and $2500 per individual unlock, on the Civil Penalties side. Criminal penalties would see violators fined at most $500,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both, for a first offence, with the values doubled for subsequent offences.

In light of the unlocking exemption's closure, a We The People petition asking for the Librarian of Congress to rescind the decision or to make unlocking permanently legal, has gathered over 25,000 signatures.

Jailbreaking and rooting of smartphones continues to be legal.

by MacNN Staff



  1. panjandrum

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 12-01-04

    So not surprised...

    "Half penny, two penny, ashes to dust
    The almighty dollar says in God we trust
    Justice for money how much more can I pay
    We all know it's the american way"

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Bad news, good news

    The bad news is that Congress should have never given the Librarian of Congress the authority to make these sorts of rulings, particularly since they involve some potentially nasty criminal penalties.

    The good news is that this creates a situation for changing the laws to require:

    1. Automatic unlocking when contract periods expire. Owners need do nothing. They simple get a notice from their cell company that their phone is unlocked and can now be used with other providers. That'd interject some much-needed competition into the market.

    2. The cellular equivalent of 'must issue' laws for concealed weapons permits. Cellular providers must unlock phones on request within the contract period for customers who meet certain minimum requirements, primarily paid-up accounts.

    For now, the best response to this is the best response to every bad law. Ignore it and harass your politicians about it.


    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-18-09

    So the Library of Congress caved into the bullying by AT&T and Verizon. This is pure nonsense. We the users need to kick some political ass and also start voting with our wallets. No unlock no renewal. Change carriers or switch to prepaid plans. When AT&T and Verizon start loosing customers they will start playing ball.

    Luckily T-Mobile plans to go to the European style sale of cell phones. As soon as they get the iPhone I am moving to them from AT&T.

  1. blahblahbber


    Joined: 02-01-05

    "Freedom".... it was nice knowing ya.

  1. davidlfoster

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-06-05

    Contempt of the Law Deserved

    Bankers ruin the nation with no accountability, the 1% violate the routinely violate the law with impunity, a British bank colludes with the drug cartels and al-Qaeda but they're concluded too big, too important to be brought to justice. And the USA can fine citizens guilty of unlocking their phones half a million dollars AND imprison them for FIVE YEARS for their FIRST offense, and double for a second? Truly the United States has exceeded all sense of justice and propriety and its system of law and justice rendered a mockery subject to global ridicule and disgust. Officials (Dick Cheney comes to mind) guilty of war crimes such as widespread and repeated torture walk free, but be sure you don't unlock your iPhone.

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