Unlocking Your Smartphone Is Now Illegal

Unlocking your smartphone is now illegal under new terms of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Customers must now ask their mobile carrier for permission to unlock their smartphones.

In 2010, the Electronic Frontier Foundation fought for an exemption to the DMCA, and it granted three exemptions including smartphone unlocking and jailbreaking.

However, in October 2012, the US Copyright Office and the Library of Congress reviewed the 2010 ruling and overturned the unlocking exemption. The agencies in 2012 found that purchasing unlocked handsets or asking for unlock codes from a wireless carrier were sufficient. At the time of ruling, the agencies issued a 90-day transition period in which unlocking smartphones would remain legal.

Unlocking a smartphone or other mobile devices can now lead to various fines that, according to CTIA officials, can include “actual damages and any additional profits of the violator.”

Those damages include civil fines between $200 and $2500 per individual unlock and criminal penalties up to $500,000 and five years in jail. Second offense penalties double the fines.

The cellular unlocking decision has led to a We The People petition that asks the Library of Congress to rescind the decision. The petition asks for the Library of Congress to rescind the decision or to make unlocking permanently legal. To date, the We The People petition has received more than 25,000 signature.

Customers looking to root or jailbreak their smartphones can rest easy. Those options have not been made illegal.

Customers looking for unlocked devices can still purchase many unlocked smartphones from Verizon Wireless. While Verizon’s CDMA network is locked, the company offers unlocked GSM SIM card slots for their smartphones. Verizon requires unlocked GSM card slots for international travel, but those slots can be used with most carriers in the United States.

Many wireless carriers will provider an unlock code 90 days after service activation.