It Will Soon Be Legal (Again) To Unlock Your Phone

A new law expected to go into effect soon will make it legal to unlock your phone

BARRY HUANG/Reuters/Corbis

When you buy a car you're not beholden to the dealership for gas and service. Internet service providers don't control your laptop; the cable company can't stop a TV from playing Netflix; and Hamilton Beach can't stop the people who buy the company's waffle irons from making delicious, delicious pizza. Yet, for the past year and half, government regulations have allowed cell phone service providers to dictate how people can or cannot use their phones. But new legislation, just approved by Congress, is set to change that. 

The new law will make it legal once again to unlock a cell phone and take it to any service provider. The law has made it through the House and Senate, says ReadWrite, and is expected to see the President's signature any time now. The freedom to take a phone to a new provider is the second part of the legal process of loosening restrictions on how Americans use their phones. The first step was the 2012 law that legalized the process of jailbreaking cell phones—uninstalling the operating system so other software could be used instead.

The existing restrictions on phone unlocking are actually a relatively recent thing. The new law will actually bring things closer to how they were a few years ago, says ZDNet.

From 2006 to 2010 phone unlocking was perfectly legal. The reins tightened in 2010, says Ars Technica, and in 2012 a change to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act made it illegal to unlock your phone without your carrier's permission. The changed DMCA provisions on unlocking went into effect for phones bought after January 2013. So really, it's only been illegal to unlock your phone for a short while.

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