Time’s Up! Unlocking Smartphones Now Against The Law

Over the weekend it officially became illegal to unlock a new smartphone without the permission from the wireless carrier that initially locked the device.

Last fall, the Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress determined that unlocking mobile phones would no longer be permissible, but a 90-day window was established for people to still buy a phone and unlock it.

That window closed over the weekend. And it’s now illegal – yes, against the law – for certain mobile phone owners to unlock their devices for use on other carriers.

The new Digital Millennium Copyright Act now states:

“…with respect to new wireless handsets, there are ample alternatives to circumvention. That is, the marketplace has evolved such that there is now a wide array of unlocked phone options available to consumers. While it is true that not every wireless device is available unlocked, and wireless carriers’ unlocking polices are not free from all restrictions, the record clearly demonstrates that there is a wide range of alternatives from which consumers may choose in order to obtain an unlocked wireless phone.”

Not surprisingly, there remains a great deal of confusion with regard to the new regulations, specifically in light of the fact that the law does not entirely outlaw unlocked phones. In fact, the law only applies to buying a discounted locked phone and then unlocking it unlawfully. In this application, “unlawfully” means unlocking the device without the carrier’s permission.

The biggest sources of confusion pertains to how the law will be enforced. If a user unlocks their phone, how will carriers respond? Or, what will be the impact of disobeying federal regulations? Those answers and more remain unclear.

Do you agree with the new mandate regarding cell phones and whether they can be unlocked or are consumers losing a fundamental right of cell phone ownership?