You can be fined 1 million dollars and be imprisoned for 10 years for unlocking your phone in the USA


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:


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.

[via iDownloadBlog, The Atlantic, image via Yutaka Tsutano]

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  • Coyote

    @lljwagg: You’re closer than you think, with the newer smartphones being able to pick up TV broadcasts the UK is thinking of adding the tax to anyone or anything that can access the internet.

  • Ron Helton

    The real irony is in the statement “your phone”.
    Like I have been telling all of my family and acquaintances:

    We don’t OWN anything in this country anymore.
    Not even if it is totally paid off.

    RIP 1913

  • Seamus McSeamus

    My fellow Americans, the government works for us, not the other way around. If you don’t like this, call your Congressman and Senators to lodge a complaint. And stop voting for incumbents!

    The way I look at it, it’s my phone. I paid for it, ergo I can do with it as I please. Throw it in the fireplace? Take a sledgehammer to it? Unlock it? All my business.

    IMO, this would be like buying a car and having the government tell me I can only take it to the dealer for maintenance.

  • lljwagg

    Bonkers – but I bet the UK follow the USA like the sheep that we are.
    We are stitched up like kippers over here, they’ll be taxing the air that we breathe very soon.


    The fun only starts when the morons start calling “CRIME STOPPERS” and reporting some people for suspected “UNLOCKING” of their cell-phones. Then there’ll be midnight gestapo raids to the suspects’ houses to be hauled away to some re-education camps.

  • Coyote

    @JonE: Just like the rest of us they only represent or “work” for who signs their paychecks. And although we as tax payers think we have been in that position. We are by no means who they represent. With lobbying, kickbacks, “campaign contributions”, and other under-the-table deals we no longer even register other than as a checkmark on a piece of paper that lets them assume office. And to be fair no matter how we vote all candidates are in the same game.

  • JonE

    Many of the laws enacted, or being considered, making it a crime to do this or that are, in fact, not crimes at all. And all carry unbelievable, ridiculous penalty.

    Who believes that we still live in a Republic, or as many like to refer to it, as a Democracy?

    I said way back when they took smokers rights away that it was just a matter of time before other rights would fall, and they have, one by one, and there is more to come.

    Do the State and Federal representatives that you voted into office represent you, or Special Interest?

  • Sounds like an item from one of those funny/strange laws articles. How the heck did this get passed?

  • Coyote

    “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). ”

    The RIAA lawyers are probably up for some extra work.

  • Henfracar

    IMHO the same such insane fines should be levied on persons spending absurd time on their personal cell-phones during working hours; imagine the improvement in productivity levels resulting from this?

  • Dunno

    That’s a real stunner!! I can’t even imagine implementing such a law against consumers. Locked phones are just another way to force the consumer to do something he doesn’t want to do, with his own money.

    While true, its unbelievable what lawmakers sometimes do.

  • riya

    Really?? that much will be fined?! Well, they can keep their damn phones to themselves :/

  • Kelltic

    Another example of the joke our government has become.

  • FJL

    My guess is the politicians/law makers who are so easily bought off by the huge monopolistic corporations, which means all of the conservatives and most of the left.

  • Mark

    Who ever came up with such a law should be fined $10,000,000 and imprisoned in hell for life and deserve to go to hell even coming up with such a law. I hope the ones who came up with this bill suffer and you are not good people. Pure evil! I agree with Mukhi, this goes down as one of the most shocking news of the century… Shame, shame, shame on you!!!

  • mukhi

    i think this should be in top ten shocking news of this century; that much punishment for unlocking a freaking “phone”? insane…

  • Ashraf

    I believe the logic behind this ruling is you need to own the hardware and the software (or at least have the rights to them) in order to unlock a phone, hence why you can’t do it on your own but can with carrier permission. However, the punishment really does not fit the crime.

    Do carriers and/or cell phone manufacturers incur damages anywhere nearing $1,000,000 by people who unlock their own cell phones? Heck, I doubt a cell phone unlocking service can cause that much in damages. After all, you only unlock a phone after you have paid for it. Carriers/manufacturers already made their profit… they just want to make more money by either keeping you with them or forcing you to buy another phone.

    I realize that the $500,000/$1,000,000 penalty is intended to deter such behavior but, still, it hardly fits the crime. You know the crime that most of us don’t even believe is a crime.