Unauthorized unlocking of new phones to be illegal in US
Have you been thinking about unlocking your iPhone? Unlocking is the process that allows your iPhone to work on multiple networks that use the same wireless standard, so it's perfect for international travelers who buy SIM cards from local carriers instead of being tied to international roaming charges. Other folks love the ability to switch carriers on a whim. Well, effective January 26, 2013 -- tomorrow -- unauthorized unlocking of new phones becomes illegal in the US.
If you want an unlocked iPhone, there are several legal workarounds. For example, if you buy an iPhone 5 from Verizon, it's unlocked out of the box. AT&T unlocks phones for customers once they're out of contract (usually after two years). Most carriers will sell you an unlocked iPhone at full price, as will Apple.
Anyone buying a new iPhone today who wants to personally unlock the phone before tomorrow needs to ask their carrier if they'll unlock the phone for you. Once they reject you, you're free to unlock the phone yourself using one of many online unlock services. However, starting tomorrow you'll be breaking the law if you do so.
What law, you may ask? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a federal anti-hacking law. In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress decided that personally unlocking phones would no longer be allowed. A 90-day grace period during which consumers could buy phones and legally unlock them started at that time, and that grace period runs out tomorrow.