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Unlocking Cell Phones: A Legal Battle for Mobile Owners Everywhere

So you finally got that new smartphone that you’ve been wanting. Yeah, its awesome and all, but you just can’t wait to unlock it, right? You know…jailbreak? Now, close your eyes and imagine a world where you could get into serious legal trouble for doing something like this to your OWN personal property. Now open your eyes! That’s right. Because of a recent decision by the Library of Congress, unlocking cell phones is, you guessed it, illegal. Change may be on the horizon, though. The Obama Administration and lawmakers are trying to get the decision overturned and the power to start unlocking cell phones back into your hands.

Unlocking cell phones

Unlocking Cell Phones: Illegal?

Recently, the White House decided to support an internet petition that prods the Library of Congress to change its decision on the legality of smartphone unlocking. Unlocking cell phones became illegal earlier this year when the Library of Congress reviewed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which is their duty, every three years) and suddenly decided that they would not renew the exemption for the phone unlocking process.

This change, which served to excite and anger cellphone enthusiasts, will prevent users from being able to unlock cell phones so that they cannot be used on other carriers.  The internet petition in opposition of the decision has garnered over 114,000 signatures. Now, in response to the decision and the White House’s backing the petition, Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon) is introducing a new bill called the Wireless Device Independence Act which would allow mobile owners to start unlocking cell phones for the purpose of using the device across multiple carriers.

Now, more and more lawmakers are following suit. Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is also supporting the new legislation.  He was quoted as saying in a statement yesterday:

I agree with the Administration that consumers should have the flexibility to use their devices on any network they choose, provided they comply with the terms of service. I intend to work in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to restore users’ ability to unlock their phones and provide them with the choice and freedom that we have all come to expect in the digital era.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz  (Republican, Utah) even went so far as to tweet his support of the new legislation to his followers.


Even the Federal Communications Commission is eager to find a legislative solution to the Library of Congress’ highly controversial decision. The FCC chairmain, Julius Genachowski, said in a statement yesterday:

From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn’t pass the common sense test. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers’ ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.



One Comment

  1. ” just can’t wait to unlock it, right? You know…jailbreak? ” Unlock is not the same as jailbreak. Jailbreaking/Rooting is still legal and unlocking only for phones manufactured/sold after 23nd January.

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