warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Jailbreak Your Phone, But Not Your Tablet

Shruti Sharma |
February 4, 2013 | 4:47 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jailbreaking your phone is the same as running a program from a different device, but without the consent of your service provider.
Jailbreaking your phone is the same as running a program from a different device, but without the consent of your service provider.
Amidst all the excitement about the untethered jailbreak being available for iOS6.1 soon, there is some bad news about the manner in which it can be used. 

The act of jailbreaking (rooting, hacking, unlocking) phones, in which a user grants themselves full access of their phone so that they can download programs and apps not originally intended for the system (similar to Mac’s bootcamp) still remains legal (The Electronic Frontier Foundation, aka the EFF, can take a bow for that!) However, after the latest amendment to the Exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), there is a catch - hacking into your tablet is not legal. 

In other words, updating your iPad to the latest version of iOS by jailbreaking isn’t exactly a very good idea (iSad, isn’t it?). Additionally, another amendment to DMCA declares that customers need to be “faithful” to the wireless carrier from whom they buy a locked phone (though higher end phones will continue to be available at extortionate prices). In effect, this makes unlocking phones illegal.

These updates to the DMCA were the talk of the Tech world all through 2012 as the exemptions to the DMCA were about to expire in January, 2013. In 2010, the Library of Congress added exceptions to the DMCA and allowed modification to the phones for non-infringing purposes.

As the exceptions were to be valid for just three years, the EFF (being the organization behind the implementation of exceptions in the first place), had made an appeal to hacking enthusiasts to sign a petition to convince the U.S. Copyright Office to extend the validity of the exceptions. The EFF succeeded in just a third of its goals, as jailbreaking tablets did not get legalized, while the Cellular carriers won the battle over unlocking phones.

Although, legally, the customers are now supposed to be bound strictly by the contract with the cellular service provider from whom they buy subsidized phones, unlocking still falls in a gray area. Second hand unlocked phones will still continue to be available because the rule applies only to the phones purchased after Jan 26th, 2013.

Moreover, the law is stricter against the commercial sale of subsidized phones after being unlocked. They can be slammed with a $500,000 fine or five years in prison. The fine for individuals is $2,500 per phone but experts claim that service providers will not necessarily go after individuals directly. That’s probably what has given a lot of people the courage to go ahead and claim on many online forums that they will still continue to unlock their phones because it’s their “nerd-right” to do so.

Whether offenders will be caught remains to be seen, but for now you can go ahead and legally jailbreak your iPhone5 (but not iPad4, remember?) with evad3rs newly released app, at least until the DMCA decides to change things up again. 


You can reach Shruti Sharma here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.