Locks and jailbreaks: Be careful what you do to your cellphone
Feb 19, 2013 (Reading Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In October the Librarian of Congress, who interprets an anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ruled that as of Jan. 28 it would be illegal to unlock mobile phones to switch carrier services.
The librarian ruled that it is still legal to jailbreak a mobile phone.
Jailbreaking involves altering the phone's operating software so that a variety of applications can be used.
But altering the software operating systems of computer tablets and video gaming consoles is now illegal, according to the decision.
Why would someone want to unlock a cellphone Quite simply, if the provider you signed up with starts charging higher rates, or a competitor offers much lower rates for voice or digital service, you might want to switch to that provider. To do so, you'd have to unlock your phone. Also, international travelers face huge roaming charges if they have a locked phone. With an unlocked phone, travelers can purchase a prepaid software card from a foreign provider and use it in their phone until they return home.
What is the difference between unlocking and jailbreaking Cellphone locking and unlocking involves the carrier on which your voice and data communications are transmitted. Jailbreaking is an effort to change or disable the software within your phone so that Apple software will work on an Android smartphone and Droid apps will work on an Apple iPhone. Smartphone makers argue that the same software that limits the apps you can use on your device also protects you from spyware.
Why the restrictions in the first place The cellular phone industry likens smartphone locking to buying a new car. If you pay cash for the car, the dealer signs the title over to you. But if you finance the car, the title stays with the dealer or loan company until you pay it off. Consumers who pay the full price for a phone can take that phone to the carrier of their choice. If a carrier subsidizes the price of the phone in exchange for the consumer's agreement to use that carrier's network, the consumer can only transfer the phone to a new carrier once the terms of the contract expire.
Why is it illegal In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to the anti-hacking law, decided that unlocking mobile phones no longer would be allowed. But the librarian said smartphone jailbreaking does not infringe on copyrights.
Oddly, the librarian banned monkeying with the software capabilities of computer tablets and video gaming consoles.
What are the penalties for unlocking phones or jailbreaking tablets The penalty for both is five years in prison and a $500,000 fine for a first offense and 10 years and $1 million in fines for each subsequent offense.
Why do I still see unlocking services advertised on the Internet Internet sites offering programs for unlocking mobile phones are global. Just because unlocking is illegal in the U.S. doesn't mean non-U.S. residents can't avail themselves of the service. Americans who unlock or jailbreak their devices risk prosecution.
How would I get caught If you stop paying the monthly bill you agree to in a contract, the provider you bought the phone from can check to see if your phone is still on the network. If it isn't, they will want to know why.
What gives mobile providers the right to lock my phone If you paid full price for your mobile phone it should have been unlocked when you bought it. If your two-year service contract has expired you can ask your provider to unlock the phone since you now own it outright. However, if you bought a subsidized phone -- an iPhone for $99 instead of the full price of $649 -- or your contract is still in force, unlocking the phone is a violation of the contract and the new regulation.
What happens next By rule the Librarian of Congress conducts a review of the application of the law every three years. In the interim, consumer rights and mobile phone industry groups lobby for changes to bring the act into line with the technology of the time. The next changes will come in October 2015.
Source: Mike Altschul, senior vice president and general counsel for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association
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