It’s Now Illegal To Unlock Your Cellphone

AAA

iphoneBy IT-Lex Intern Shannon Allen (LinkedIn)

Remember how you – I mean, how some people – used to buy the latest, most-expensive smartphone at a huge discount for signing a new contract with a particular carrier?  And remember how those same people used to unlock those amazing smartphones and then resell them for a pretty profit?  Well, that behavior is not longer legal. On Saturday, January 26, unlocking cellphones became illegal without carrier permission.

The New York Times explained

“In 2006 and again in 2010, the Library of Congress approved an exemption to the [copyright] act that allowed the circumvention of technology that confined wireless handsets to different networks, . . . . the Library of Congress chose not to renew [the exemption] in October, . . . . [and] [t]h[e] exemption expire[d] Saturday, making the act of unlocking a cellphone [ ] illegal, unless it is authorized by a carrier.”

Michael Altschul, senior vice president of a wireless industry trade group, told The Times:

 “. . . by not allowing people to unlock phones, carriers will . . . be making it harder for “gray market” businesses to launder and sell stolen cellphones. This protects consumers . . . because the software used to unlock phones might contain malicious code that steals personal information.”

Curbing crime is good, right?

Not so fast. E-Commerce Times suggests that:

“the loss of the exemption could result in a hike in device prices, greater electronic waste, and less flexibility when it comes to switching carriers,. . . .[and] [w]hile unlocked devices might be available for consumers from third-party vendors, it is possible that certain carriers won’t accept them or would attach extra fees to a contract.”

Phones in landfills and increased cost, not so good. So how good or bad is this news?

TechNewsDaily reassures with:

“The new rule against unlocking phones won’t be a problem for everybody, . . . . For example, Verizon’s iPhone 5 comes out of the box already unlocked, and AT&T will unlock a phone once it is out of contract. You can also pay full-price for a phone, not the discounted price that comes with a two-year service contract, to receive the device unlocked from the get-go. Apple sells an unlocked iPhone 5 starting at $649, and Google sells its Nexus 4 unlocked for $300.”

Technology policy attorney, Scott Seder of Roberts McGivny Zagotta, as noted to E-Commerce Times, sums it up with

“[t]ime will tell as to how this will play out, but it is possible that you will see regulatory action, congressional activity or both on this subject, if consumers believe that they are not treated fairly when switching carriers. . . . [and] decisions like these could also lead to greater carrier scrutiny by consumers at the point of sale.”

For now, you have to pay full price for an unlocked phone or ask your carrier for permission.  It remains to seen how this will impact the cost and convenience of cellphone use.

  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS

Leave a Comment