Cell phone unlocking will be legal again

Cell phone unlocking will be legal again

Summary: In 2012, the Library of Congress ruled that you couldn't unlock your cell phone from your carrier without their permission. Congress has finally passed a law that will make it legal again.


Back in October 2012, the Library of Congress, which oversees how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is enforced, ruled that cell phone unlocking without your wireless carrier's permission was illegal. Cell-phone users were not happy, and, in July 2014, Congress finally listened and is giving users back the right to unlock cell phones.

No matter who makes your smartphone, soon you'll be able to unlock it legally whether your carrier wants you to or not.

The Library of Congress decision was never popular. A We the People petition asking that unlocking cell phones be made legal quickly gained popularity. A little more than a month afterwards the White House's R. David Edelman, senior advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy, replied that as far as President Obama was concerned, "neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation."

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In early 2014, the Federal Communications Commission and major US phone carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless —made it easier for users to unlock their phones. But Derek Khanna, a Yale Law Fellow who follows and comments on telecommunications policies, observed that while, "This is terrific news....it will still keep the technology itself...illegal."

It won't be against the law for much longer.

Sina Khanifar, who started the unlocking petition, strongly approved of Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley's bipartisan cell-phone unlocking bill, the “Unlocking Consumer and Wireless Competition Act.”

The Senate passed the bill the week of July 14 and House of Representatives passed it unanimously on July 25.

Obama is expected to sign it immediately.

In a statement on the We the People petition site, Obama wrote that the "Administration called for allowing Americans to use their phones or mobile devices on any network they choose. We laid out steps the FCC, industry, and Congress should take to ensure copyright law does not undermine wireless competition, and worked with wireless carriers to reach a voluntary agreement that helps restore this basic consumer freedom. The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget."

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Topics: Mobility, Government, Government US, Smartphones

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  • All needs to stop

    Here in the uk there is mounting pressure to get rid of locking. Telefonica's 02 and hutchindon's three already unlock devices for free, with just EE and Vodafone still charging £20 to unlock.

    With a bit of luck this will all be a distant memory soon. Next up - preventing networks from controlling android firmware update releases.
    • The phone manufactuers

      need to put their foot down regarding updates. Apple does it, i see no reason a company the size of samsung (who virtually owns android) can't do the same. Where is google on this? Surely they can exert some influence on the cell networks.
      • Google's influence...

        ...I suspect is large should it choose to use it. And again, if the carriers and manufacturers won't offer system updates, Google should sell them.
        John L. Ries
        • google

          Google are moving as much of android as possible into the play store specifically so they can update the OS on the fly with no carrier interference. Your kernel version may be different.. But eventually that will make little or no difference to the phone as all the services will update via the play store. Many already do.
        • What about carrier-specific and manufacturer-specific software?

          In some cases at least, carriers and manufacturers may be slow to adopt new versions of Android because they haven't finished rewriting their own software for the new operating system. If a customer then installs an OS upgrade from Google, bypassing the manufacturer/carrier, before the carrier/manufacturer is ready, the customer may lose functionality. This does apply pressure to the carrier/manufacturer to speed up their upgrade process, but customers would need to know that some of the functionality they had under the old OS may not work properly. Does anyone in this thread know how difficult it would be to "fall back" to the old OS if the customer found that one of their favorite features no longer worked?
    • Must be some limit

      How could they offer something for free with no limitation? I could make a business taking their free phones and selling them overseas.
      Buster Friendly
      • You could do

        But you still pay for the phone through the contract

        There's nothing to stop you doing that with the ones that do charge? Lg g3 free on contract, pay to unlock - £20, then sell for £400 up on ebay.

        You still have to pay the £45 a month or whatever for 2 years, and if you don't they'll attempt to take you to court just like they do now.

        People already sell their locked phones on ebay when they get an upgrade
        • I think I like the T-Mobile deal better

          T-Mobile does it by giving you a small discount and then you get an unlock code after you use it on the system for 40 days. There's no service contract. They probably don't make their money back in 40 days but most people will keep the service longer and it prevents resellers from buying them up.
          Buster Friendly
          • Sounds like a pay as you go deal?

            Where you get around £30-40 off the sim free price and pay the rest up front?

            If so all networks offer that here - either pay as you go with a bit of a discount, or free-£100 upfront then a two year contract of between 25-50 a month including your cellular service and device.

            Over here, generally the two year plans work out marginally cheaper over pay as you go provided you need quite a few minutes / data allowance
          • Sounds like the same deal

            It sounds like the same as deal as the US carriers. The catch is if they can't lock the phones, those discounts might become unavailable. I prefer being able to get the discounted phone with only a 40 day obligation if I break mine. I don't do contracts anymore as if some other company comes up with a better deal or my locations change where their coverage isn't good, I want to be able to change easily.
            Buster Friendly
    • Unlocking

      MarknWill: In addition, my understanding is that O2 has been freely unlocking handsets over a year into a contract for years. However, I don't know what the current policy is with the rise of the two-year contract.
    • You Probably Won't Get Firmware Updates

      Most phones have an OS that is NOT pure Android or, for that matter, anything else. It is a cross between Android, the phone maker's part of the OS and the carrier's software. I mean, how can Google distribute patches for their own Android OS if both the maker of the phone and the carrier have made changes to it?
  • "Congress has finally passed a law"

    I stopped reading right there and threw a little party.
    x I'm tc
    • You cheer when a law is

      Passed, just because a law is passed?
    • I wouldn't celebrate

      The law is only valid until the Librarian of Congress reviews and issues exemptions again in 2015. So Congress really didn't do much of anything, as usual.

      SJVCnP forgot to Cut-and-Paste that vital piece of information from his source article
      • Library of Congress only interprets

        The Library of Congress can't set the rules. They only interpret the law and issue an opinion which the courts will tend to follow. If the Congress says no locking then they must also say that.
        Buster Friendly
        • The job of regulators...

          ...is to write rules based on the law (to the extent the law gives them the discretion to do so). I don't know enough about the DMCA to tell whether the Librarian's ruling was correct, but Congress apparently disagreed with it and therefore amended the statute, which means it's highly unlikely that it's unlikely that the ban will be reinstated (definitely bad medicine for an officer of the Congress to defy the Congress).
          John L. Ries
  • Why was it illegal?

    The article mentioned the DMCA...I assume it had something to do with infringing on copyright?
    • It broke the terms of the DMCA

      There is a passage in that law that says breaking anti-circumvention techniques is illegal in itself. This is why it was ruled illegal in 2012
      • Which I is really a misuse

        That was aimed and making it illegal to break copy protection on media. Using it to lock people out of their own hardware is really a misuse of the law. It's good they're finally addressing that.
        Buster Friendly