Published on February 12th, 20130
The Law Against Unlocking Cellphones Is Anti-Consumer, Anti-Business, and Anti-Common Sense
Since I called the Librarian of Congress’s decision against unlocking cell phones “the most ridiculous law of 2013,” legal experts, techies, and other readers have written to tell me they, too, consider the restriction an outrageous violation of property rights. In particular, several people asked, “No one would really get into trouble for this. Right?”
Maybe not. But as I said, the real problem is not the danger that average people would get a $500,000 fine and 5 years in jail. The problem is that 95% of the accused currently accept a plea deal and would accept almost anything to avoid risking such a stark penalty and that this stark penalty can be used by companies to scare average consumers from exercising their own property rights. For that reason, this restriction violates one of our most basic and fundamental of freedoms and represents an Orwellian invasion of our personal liberty.
The legal instrument that makes this activity illegal is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which contains a broad, vague section making it illegal to circumvent digital protection technology. The Librarian of Congress decided that the protection available to consumers through an exception as no longer necessary, therefore, presumably making this now illegal. Cellphone companies can now intimidate ordinary people who are forced to wonder who exactly owns the phone that they’ve legally purchased.
This isn’t a debate about big business vs. little consumers. It’s a story of crony-capitalism. (In fact, T-Mobile was asking their customers to unlock their phones until Saturday when this became illegal for new phones, as you can see in this image).