Starting Saturday, it will be illegal for you to unlock your phone without permission from your wireless carrier, notes PC Magazine.
Unlocking a phone allows you to change carriers. It is also useful for international travelers who need their phones to work on different networks. In the United States, for example, GSM carriers, T-Mobile and AT&T Mobility may work on each others network if the phone is unlocked.
You can pay full-price for a phone, not the discounted price that comes with a two-year service contract, to receive the device unlocked from the get-go. AT&T will unlock a phone once it is out of contract, and Verizon’s iPhone 5 comes out of the box already unlocked.
The new rule change dates back to an October decision from the Library of Congress’s Copyright Office, which gave consumers a 90-day window to unlock their phones without carrier permission. That 90-day period ends this weekend.
Consumers can still choose to buy unlocked phones that will work with multiple carriers, giving them an alternative, said Librarian of Congress James Billington.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access” to copyrighted material, in this case software embedded in phones that controls carrier access, explains Wired.
The change removes legal protection that has allowed consumers to unlock their phones and doesn’t explicitly make the act illegal, according to Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said in an interview.
Apple sells an unlocked iPhone 5 starting at $649, and Google sells its Nexus 4 unlocked for $300.
The change could crimp the style of carriers like T-Mobile, which have pushed “bring your own device” as an incentive for switching service providers. They promise savings in exchange for using your existing phone on their network.
Unlocking is different from “jailbreaking,” which opens the phone up for running additional software. Jailbreaking remains legal for smartphones. It lets you download apps from sources other than the Apple App Store. Jailbreaking one’s phone does not unlock it.
Cydia is a software application for iOS that enables a user to find and install software packages on jailbroken iOS Apple devices such as the iPhone. Software packages can be downloaded directly to an iOS device. Jailbroken devices can also still buy and download apps normally from the official App Store.