Wireless handset unlocking becomes illegal in U.S. without carrier permission

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Date: Monday, January 28th, 2013, 08:45
Category: iPhone, Legal, wireless

Well, here’s the thing that’ll drive you nuts today.

Per Electronista and TechCrunch, 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. The expiration of the exemption 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. Three exemptions were applied for, including making jailbreaking legal and the renewal of an existing exemption that permitted phone unlocking. In October, the U.S. 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 US$200 and US$2500 per individual unlock, on the Civil Penalties side. Criminal penalties would see violators fined at most US$500,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both, for a first offense, with the values doubled for subsequent offenses.

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.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

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