Unlocking Your Phone Is Now Illegal, Offenders Can be Fined Up To $500,000


While we knew that as of last Saturday, January 26th, it is illegal to unlock your iPhone to use it on another carrier’s network in the U.S., we really didn’t know what this meant for someone who is found guilty of unlocking their phone.

We’ve just found out the penalties for unlocking a subsidized phone without carriers consent can be severe. 

CTIA (a wireless trade group that counts every major U.S. wireless carrier among its members) providers more clarity on the penalties on its official blog.

Civil penalties are based on the carrier’s actual damages and any additional profits of the violator, or a court can award statutory damages of not less than $200 or more than $2,500 per individual act. Criminal penalties are even more severe: any person convicted of violating section 1201 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain (1) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and (2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense.

It doesn’t mean that the police are going to come knocking on your door because you unlocked your phone, but as Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Mitch Stoltz points out, it makes lawsuits more likely. But it will still be left to the courts to decide if it was indeed illegal for the person to unlock his phone.

“What’s happening is not that the Copyright Office is declaring unlocking to be illegal, but rather that they’re taking away a shield that unlockers could use in court if they get sued.”

There are a number of genuine reasons where you may want to unlock your phone, for example, if you end up moving to an area during the two-year contract where your carrier doesn’t have coverage. It can also be useful for users who travel abroad regularly, and want to use a local SIM to avoid exorbitant international roaming charges.

As Derek Khanna of TheAtlantic points out, what’s absurd about this situation is that Librarian of Congress has been able to pass a law that can put people in jail rather than elected officials. If you don’t agree, sign the White House petition which is seeking to make unlocking legal again. At the time of writing, there were more than 25,000 signatures on the petition. An official White House response requires 100,000 signatures by February 23, 2013.

Via: TechCrunch, CTIA blog


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  • Andres Buitrago

    in colombia where i live its illegal that cellphone companies sell locked phones. all cellphone in here are unlocked and if the company sell you a locked phone they are the ones who would be fined

    • Size matters

      Same in brazil

    • http://twitter.com/jbrasco Johnny Brasco

      Well, here in America, big business is in charge.

  • Kraken

    If you steal billions of of dollars, crash the global economy, and foreclose on millions of people’s homes without cause, you get a taxpayer bailout and private meetings with your choice of congressmen.

    But unlock a cell phone that you bought, pay for monthly, and carry around with you 24/7? 5-10 years in jail you criminal!

    Welcome to 21st century America. A nation by the corporation and for the corporation.

    • Kraken

      Also, take action:

      Library of Congress phone (general line): (202) 707-5000

      Copyright questions (what this law falls under): (202) 707-5959 or
      1-877-476-0778 – 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday to Friday

      Mail: Library of Congress
      Copyright Office
      101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
      Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

      Email (form): http://www.copyright.gov/help/general-form.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.cyganik Aaron W Cyganik

      Yes sir America at its finest again… You know with so many actual criminals the court system is backed up so lets add more fuel to the fire plus money in the lawyers,judges and DA’s pockets over a cellphone that is actually paid for

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.kennard Steve Kennard

    Why a my messages being moderated ?

    • Apel P

      They just blur curse words. I haven’t seen them block a post yet

  • Cookie Cookie

    So if it is illegal to open a locked phone, WHY THE HELL ARE CRIMINALS STEALING THEM? Our phone providers should do something to protect it’s users – just like pawn shops can no longer take jewelry w/o state ID (yeah right!). If not then it’s means these types of crimes go far beyond the thieves that steal them- hmmm?

  • Apel P

    So AT&T isn’t unlocking off contract anymore? Is imei unlock off applenberry illegal?

    • http://www.iphonehacks.com iPhoneHacks

      Yes, AT&T will unlock off-contract iPhones. Any kind of unlocking is illegal, so it includes the IMEI one as well.

      • Apel P

        Ok. Thank you just curious.

  • http://twitter.com/JMOBILEHITE352 JAN J*MOBILE E. HITE


  • Fireknight25

    Thanks for wasting our tax dollars on another arbitrary laws. Why don’t politicians get a real job and do a honest day of work for once. This government is run by losers like these whom fills their pocket and pick on the little guys.

  • Vita

    I wish dante was real. He would beat the zhiet outta all corporations in america.

  • Daniel

    Poor America… all the signs point toward a declining nation. Very sad to witness.