Believe it or not, as of Saturday, 2/2/13, it became illegal to unlock your cell phone. Or to unlock anybody else’s cell phone. The failure by the LIbrary of Congress to renew an unlocking exemption to the DMCA means that you must seek permission from the carrier or phone manufacturer before you can unlock your cell phone. If you don’t? You can face prison time. Just ask Sina Khanifar, who in fact was threatened with up to 5 years in prison. His crime? Unlocking his Motorola Razr.
Khanifar had taken his Razr from California, where it was provisioned by AT&T, to England, where he was attending school.
Explains Khanifar, “I had taken a phone from here in California with me. While I was there, I couldn’t use it.”
There is no AT&T in England, and so in order to be able to use his phone, Khanifar unlocked the Razr and used it with a British carrier.
After figuring out how unlock his phone and have it provisioned by a British carrier, Khanifar also started a small side business helping others in the same situation unlock their phones.
Shortly after, he got a cease and desist letter from Motorola, threatening him with jail time.
The issue is that the Librarian of Congress is allowed to create exemptions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and, while under the DMCA, technically unlocking your phone would be illegal, up until now they have determined that having an exemption that allows you to unlock your phone made sense. However, the Library of Congress has decided that such an exemption is no longer warranted.
According to Gayle Osterberg, a spokesperson for the Library of Congress, during the last review of the legal shield that protects people who unlock their phones, it was “determined” that it should be up to the carriers and manufacturers when a phone can be unlocked.
Says Osterberg, “The evidence showed that the market has changed. There are a wide variety of new phones that are already available unlocked, and cellphone carriers have relaxed their unlocking policies.”
So, now you must ask permission before you can unlock your phone. Or, risk being in violation of Federal law, and going to jail.
A petition to change the law is currently before the White House.