Unlocking your cell phone becomes illegal in the U.S. today

CBC photo “UNLOCK YOUR IPHONE - $20” proclaim signs in front of shady electronics stores across North America. Soon, those signs will be a thing of the past south of the border, because as of Saturday, unlocking your phone in the United States is a crime.

Those who opt to modify their phone and make it usable on any network probably don’t give it much thought beyond making their life easier and preventing them from being tied to one provider. But as of January 26, 2013, that practice will officially become illegal in the United States because of government regulations that come into effect that day.

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A decision back in October gave customers the option to unlock their cell phones without carrier permission for a 90 day period, after which the practice would become illegal, PC World explains. Every three years, the rules on unlocking and jailbreaking phones must be reviewed in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Copyright Office in the U.S. found that because there are now unlocked phones widely available to consumers, there was no longer a need to make the practice of unlocking phones a legal one, as they only people who would still be unlocking their phones would be the ones doing it as breach of contract.

Now, customers will need permission from their carriers in order to unlock a device. Some U.S. carriers like T-Mobile sell unlocked phones, while others like AT&T will let you unlock your phone at the end of your contract.

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As for what this means for Canadians, it looks like we’re pretty safe. The unlocking of cell phones in Canada is deemed a legal practice based on Bill C-343 or the ‘Cell Phone Freedom Act.’ According to the act, any phone can be legally unlocked in Canada at the end of a service contract by the provider, free of charge, if the phone was bought at a discounted rate (which is how many of us get out smartphones in Canada). If you don’t enter into a contract for at least six months or if you pay the full price of the phone, the provider must remove any network lock free of charge at your request. It’s a little dated now, but you can read more about network locks on cell phones in Canada in this CBC story.

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