Library of Congress enacts new law that will fine consumers for unlocking cell phones

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A new constitutional law says if you unlock your cell phone, you can go to jail. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it is now illegal to unlock your cell phone. The Library of Congress enacted the law on January 26, 2013, but it didn't actually go into affect until this week.

For years unlocking cell phones has been the easiest way for people to access services offered by another phone carrier.

Matt Davis, the owner of Screen Geeks in Lufkin, says unlocking was a service he offered his clients.

Screen Geeks repairs cell phones, tablets and laptops. They buy in broken and used devices and they also recycle the phones and make sure the parts are used in other phones.

"It hurts us because yes, it was a service that we previously offered. It also hurts the consumer though. There's many CellularOne customers in East Texas that are now restricted to the phones that CellularOne offers them," Davis said.

Davis says unlocking a phone is like buying a car and having the bank tell you that you can't put in a new stereo system without paying off the car loan first.

"Unlocking is whenever you take a cell phone that's meant for AT&T. Let's say you go to AT&T and buy an iPhone 4 at their subsidized price. It's locked to AT&T. You can't put a CellularOne card in it or a T-Mobile card and you can't put any other carrier, but AT&T on that phone," Davis said.

A petition against this law has been posted on the White House web site. Right now, it has about 60,000 signatures but many people are saying they aren't sure if it's going to change the mind of lawmakers.

"The penalties for a civil offense is up to $2,500 per unlocked phone and for a business like myself if I was to offer an unlocking service it's up to five years in prison or $500,000 in fines," Davis said.

But the real question is: how are we going to get caught?

"There's really not an easy way to catch people unlocking phones. That's one of the things about the law. There's a lot of people that think it's going to be very hard to enforce," Davis said.

Davis said around the world it is actually illegal for carriers to lock their cell phones.

But there is a loophole in all of this. If you complete a certain amount of months in your contract, you can actually request an unlock code from your carrier. You have to get it approved, but it is a way for you to legally unlock your phone.

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