Point of View
"Unlocking" Phones No Longer Legal
By Robert Meyers
Jan 29, 2013 - 11:52:21 AM

UNITED STATESIt’s more than likely in today’s world that you own a cell phone purchased through carriers like Verizon, AT&T or Sprint.  The phones factory state only allows its use under the carrier that it was purchased from, unless you decide to “unlock” your device, a software process that allows you to use new SIM cards or utilize your device under a different carrier.  As of Saturday, January 26, 2013 it is illegal to unlock a cell phone for use under another carrier. 

It can be a criminal offense to unlock phones in the United States. (credit @socialMediaBlaz/Twitter)

Unlocking the phone gave consumers a particular freedom purchasing and unlocking devices and taking them to the provider of their choice.  Phones exclusive under Verizon Wireless contracts could be purchased, unlocked and used under an AT&T contract; or any other combination.

Unfortunately, as of Saturday it is now illegal to unlock subsidized phones and other devices that are purchased under a U.S. Carrier. The U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress are no longer allowing “unlocking” as an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  That is unless you obtain written permission from your current carrier to do so.  

You can still unlock your phone legally, but just how can you go about getting that permission?  I called my service provider to ask just how I would go about getting permission to unlock my phone.  Customer service told me that my phone is actually already unlocked (which is only true on an international stage if I wanted to use a foreign provider while traveling, one of the perks I get) and that in order to use it with another carrier in the United States I would have to contact the manufacturer of the phone itself.  I called the 1-800 numbers that my service carrier provided and gave my phone’s manufacture a call. 

After speaking with the manufacturer I was told that only the carrier could give me permission to use the unlock phone.  I called the carrier once more.  This time I was placed an hold for about ten minutes and was told “we do not give permission for that.”

I spoke to all the major U.S. Service providers and it’s always the same story.  You get pointed to the manufacturers who in turn point you back to the service provider, who will not under any circumstances permit you to unlock your phone. 

Personally I have no desire to go to another service carrier.  I have a very good plan, and I have no complaints about my phone.  Service providers actually do sell unlocked phones such as the iPhone 5 and certain droid products.  Most 4G enabled phones are unlocked for international travel. So consumers will not be impacted too harshly unless they have purchased a locked phone. 

For others it’s a different story; consumers can no longer unlock a phone and sell it after upgrading to a new model, or unlock a phone and use it with service providers overseas in order to take advantage of local rates while traveling abroad.

The civil repercussions of unlocking your phone, is a fine up to $2,500. Anyone planning to profit off unlocking their phone, such as re-selling it, can face up to $500,000 in fines with included prison time.  

Until the exemptions from the DMCA are revisited, it is probably better to purchase pre-unlocked phones, rather than doing it yourself.

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