USA Allows Phone Unlocking Again
Published on: 2nd Aug 2014
The US President has signed a new law that makes it legal for Americans to unlock their mobile phone when it is SIM locked to their original mobile network provider.
The procedure used to be legal, until a curious ruling found that modifying the handset in this way breached copyright law, and was effectively banned.
The Librarian of Congress (LOC) had originally issued an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which could have been interpreted as making unlocking of phones as illegal if it is done without the permission of the original phone network.
Attempts to extend the waiver expired last January, leaving phone unlockers facing a potential fine of up to $500,000 and 5 years in jail.
The effort to reverse the copyright ruling began with a digital petition on the White House's website. A digital rights activist, Sina Khanifar submitted a simple request: restore an exception to the law to let consumers take their mobile phone to the carrier that best suits their needs by "unlocking" the device.
The petition drew an extraordinary response, with more than 114,000 citizens making their voices heard. And within two weeks, the White House answered with a call to action, laying out steps the FCC, industry, and Congress could take to ensure copyright law would not undermine wireless competition.
At the same time, Congress took action to heed this call in a bipartisan manner. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy partnered with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to promptly introduce joint legislation restoring the exemption to allow mobile phones to be unlocked. The bill also directed the Librarian of Congress to determine whether other wireless devices, such as tablets, should be unlockable.
This month, the Senate and the House both unanimously passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act -- the first time an online petition has led to a legislative change by politicians.
Removing the SIM-lock imposed by the mobile network is different from Jail-Breaking, which is the removal of software locks to permit 3rd-party software to be used on the phone. That remains illegal.