If you don’t already know, unlocking your phone in the US without carrier permission has become officially illegal since January 26th. Section 1204 of Public Law 105-304 says that any person who violates the law willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain will be subject to the aforementioned terms and penalties. Just how bad can these penalties get? How about $1,000,000 for repeat offenders. Yeah.
This is an advisory from the Library of Congress:
“IT SHALL HENCEFORCE BE ORDERED THAT AMERICANS SHALL NOT UNLOCK THEIR OWN SMARTPHONES.
PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.”
While this might sound like it only applies to those businesses who charge for unlocking services, it could also apply to individuals as well. Unlocking is easy for some, and I know people that have charged friends and family for unlocking their phones. iDownloadBlog also notes that you can easily make a few extra bucks when selling your phone on eBay if it’s unlocked. Plus you should also consider that “private financial gain” could be interpreted as unlocking your AT&T phone to use on T-Mobile instead of purchasing a new T-Mobile handset. See the issue?
Of course the above-mentioned penalties are the “maximum” so it is highly likely not everyone charged with the crime will be hit with the max. Plus, I can’t imagine how this law will be enforced anyway (at least not on a personal level; policing businesses is a bit more plausible). However, that doesn’t nullify the fact that you can be fined $1,000,000 and be imprisoned for ten years for unlocking a few bloody cellphones.
That said, there are still exceptions to this law. You can still unlock pre-2013 phones, and you can most certainly still purchase unlocked phones straight from the official vendor like Apple, or your carrier like Verizon (who sells an unlocked iPhone 5). There are even some phones, like Nexus 4, that are (relatively) cheap and unlocked at the same time. Still, this law makes unlocking not only illegal, but pretty darn punishing as well.