Another law with a huge negative impact on the rights and freedom of U.S. citizens, from the January 26 and onwards you will not be able to legally unlock your smartphone and table in America. This action was branded with a criminal status back in October 2012 by the Librarian of Congress, who was the legal entity appointed by the U.S. Congress to interpret the DMCA and determine whether or not jailbreaking the tablet/smartphone in the absence of the carrier’s consent is against the law.
To put it simply, once you acquisition a smartphone/tablet from a certain carrier, you are not allowed to unlock the device in order to utilize it on a different network. The only “break” granted by the Librarian of Congress was the window of 90 days before the actual implementation of the decision.
A brief explanation of the background
When you purchase a smartphone from a certain network, it comes bundled with a subscription plan that lasts for a predefined period, as specified in the contract. During this time, you have to continue paying for the services of the carrier unless there are legal grounds for terminating your collaboration.
Furthermore, the mobile device – of which technically YOU are the owner – is locked and can only be utilized on the network of the carrier. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as T-Mobile’s Nexus 4 or the iPhone 5 from Verizon, but in the vast majority of cases the smartphone you acquire is set to work exclusively on that carrier’s network. It is also necessary to point out that the lock is installed by the carrier and has nothing to do with the device’s capabilities of accessing different networks.
What changes after January 26?
In essence, the practice of “terminating” the lock on the mobile device – tablet or smartphone – loses its legality statute. Therefore, the two aforementioned mobile models/carriers will become the singular devices on the U.S. market that come unlocked by default. For the other smartphones/tablets you purchase, you will have to wait until the contract with your carrier is over in order to perform the jailbreaking.
Keep in mind that whether or not you continue to pay the subscription to the services of the network, you do not have the right to tinker with the mobile’s lock, in spite of the fact that it is basically your possession. Take that, democracy!
Whom does this rule impact the most?
First of all, the people who will experience the negative effects of the new legislation are those whose work/daily life requires a lot of travelling abroad or to regions where their current carrier has no coverage and applies outrageous roaming fees. As many commentators of the Librarian’s interpretation of the DMCA law pointed out, the inability to switch a mobile phone to a different network if desired by the user and as long as the subscription plan is paid is an immense hindrance.
But, at the same time, if this rule is strictly enforced, it also represents a dangerous precedent and in its wake, many freedom-violating laws might follow. There are also voices that accuse the proponents and the supporters of the DMCA of lobbying for the corporations and decisions like the one in question are just fueling the fire.
No time left…
There have been of course petitions to overrule the decision of the Librarian of Congress of deeming the unlocking illegal, the most notable being on the “We the people…” on the White House’s designated website. Unfortunately, since the general public was mostly unaware of the law that will come to pass on the 26, only approximately 3,000 signatures were gathered. Since the new threshold for a petition to receive attention from the presidential administration is 100,000 it is safe to say that Obama’s staff won’t probably look this one over.
What happens now?
The visibility of the effects will most likely depend on the strictness of the law’s enforcement and the ability of the authorities to control smartphone/tablet jailbreaking. Most agree that the passing of the legislation won’t stop people from unlocking their devices, but the truth is that only time will tell whether carriers can come up with a method of tracking the “virginity” status of the mobiles and urge authorities to apply sanctions.