Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Unlocking Your Smartphone in America

We are well aware of some of the daft laws in various parts of the USA. For example, in Alabama you may not chain your alligator to a fire hydrant or carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket. In California you will be fined $500 if you detonate a nuclear device within city limits, and in Baldwin Park you may not ride a bicycle in a swimming pool. And in 1897, Indiana attempted to pass legislation that determined the value of Pi as 4 rather than 3.142 (etc). Fortunately for the Wheelwrights (and Allied Trades) of Indiana a mathematician happened by in time to alert the Senate to the idiocy of the proposal. See bored.com for further edification on the sheer bonkersness of American legislators.
(Disclaimer: I have not checked the veracity or otherwise of the bored.com list, so some may be apocryphal or even made up, but it's America so...)
But the Congress men and women in Washington DC surpassed themselves with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 which aims to to outlaw technologies that bypass copyright protections. Because of the rather loose, not to say ham-fisted, way this legislation was drafted it is now illegal throughout America to unlock your smartphone. So if you acquire your smartphone via one service provider you may not, at the end of your contract, unlock the phone so that you can use another service provider. This is because the software which locks your phone is copyrighted and you may not tamper with it. If you do, you're liable to a $500,000 fine and up to five years in clink. See The Atlantic and Techweek for more info. To make matters worse, the power to make this Regulation is vested in someone called The Librarian of Congress, an appointee. So Americans are lumbered with a Regulation that nobody voted for, made by someone who is not subject to election. Only the Americans, the self-proclaimed Champions of Democracy, could do something so undemocratic. On the other hand, the legislation is typically American in that the principal beneficiaries are big corporations such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. I suspect they and their ilk might have been 'donating to congress election campaigns'.
It is equally risible that because of the DMCA legislation, every three years groups like the American Foundation for the Blind have to lobby Congress to protect an exception for the blind allowing for books to be read aloud.

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