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Unlocking phones now illegal in US

In the USA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, is like the Alamo. It has become the last desperate stand of the analogue generation attempting to prohibit the scary freedoms of the internet hordes. Their latest sally has been to outlaw the unlocking of mobile phones, or cellphones as our transatlantic cousins call them.

Although their advertising tends to drop words like "freedom"” quite generously, US cellphone networks and manufacturers are resistant to the idea that users might like to shop around for providers, especially when travelling outside the US. Rather like the film and music industries, phone companies have lobbied to protect their investments and make it less easy for users to unlock phones.

New legislation came into force on January 26 that made it illegal for users to unlock cellphones without the permission of their network. The US Federal Register argued that it was possible to buy unlocked phones, so it was unnecessary for users to attempt the process themselves. "While it is true that not every wireless device is available unlocked," their statement read, "and wireless carriers' unlocking polices are not free from all restrictions, the record clearly demonstrates that there is a wide range of alternatives from which consumers may choose in order to obtain an unlocked wireless phone."

Understandably the new ruling has sparked protest and not just from the hipsters who are usually the first to denounce any attempt to limit their freedoms. Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Mitch Stoltz pointed out some problems to Engadget. "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," Stoltz said. "This shows just how absurd the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is: a law that was supposed to stop the breaking of digital locks on copyrighted materials has led to Congress trying to regulate the used cellphone market."

As with much of the DMCA’s legislation, the key issue will be how rigorously they choose to enforce it.

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