Crazy Law alert: unlocking your smartphone (which some people do to switch carriers for international travel) has been made illegal an is punishable by $500,000 or 5 years in prison and up to $1 million the second time.
It wasn’t even decided by Congress. This was put in place by powers congress gave to the library of Congress – so the Librarian of Congress decided that something many ordinary people do is now criminal.
I tinkered with my phone when I wanted to go to England a few years ago. AT&T exacted horrible prices for international data and voice packages. They gave very little for a lot of money with huge overage fees. It’s basically a scam to rake in huge $$ from business travelers who aren’t paying a lot of attention to their business accounts. But for ordinary people, it prices us out, so I tried to temporarily unlock my phone to put an English carrier SIM card in. That is now illegal activity. It didnt work for me, and we ended up buying a cheap phone in England that barely did anything – but it makes me angry that the carriers put everyone between a rock and a hard place. It’s not consumer friendly and it is driven by trying to push the consumer to give companies as much money as possible.
But now this activity has jailtime and huge fines associated with it. Why does this affect us?
(1) This benefits your carriers who want to lock you into their profit stream and force you to pay for all their add-ons. Like with international travel, you are a criminal if you don’t want to pay the exorbitant fees.
(2) It will hinder innovation. If it is illegal to tinker, creators won’t be able to come up with new ideas or new programs that otherwise would have been created to help the consumer.
(3) It can put ordinary citizens behind bars and financially sink a persons life to make an example (Think Aaron Swartz). I know teens and college students love to push the envelope and push tech to its limits. This law, if any prosecutor decides to make an example of someone, they are done. Aaron Swartz committed suicide facing multiple accounts, felony charges, and 30 years in prison for downloading research files from MIT. What if your college student secretly unlocks all his friends phones because it is possible and a prosecutor decodes to make a career move and prosecute multiple unlocks. This smart kid is sunk.
The problem with all this is that laws are being made by people who don’t even understand the tech. As tech companies grow larger and go after bigger profits, they take advantage of the age of legislators and the people who make these laws (in this case a Librarian!), and Lobby for those rules that if carried out harm ordinary people and often the smartest of us, and in the end only scare people – which seems fascist to me – not democratic.
Companies should make products that people want and can use easily without having to mortgage their home to use their services. They shouldn’t be allowed to use legislation to scare the population into subservient pay streams. It’s wrong and sends all the wrong messages about who we are in America. I hope these laws will be struck down and soon.