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Monday, January 28, 2013

"unlocking" your smartphone can now land you in jail!

After the tragic and untimely death of Aaron Swartz, we are all going to have to do a little bit more to make up for his loss. If he was still alive, I suspect I'd be receiving a letter from him about this very important development because our rights in Cyberspace are under attack again. Since he's not, I'll take up some of the slack by alerting you to this very important attack.

As of Sunday any iPhone, Blackberry or Android you purchase will be a lot less yours than it was the day before. Sunday it became illegal for you to "unlock" your smartphone. In two years it will also be a crime to "root" or "jailbreak" your smartphone. From the Atlantic



PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.*

So what does that mean in little words?

As you are no doubt already aware, your smartphone is nothing less than a computer in your pocket, in fact, together with the tablet, they represent the fastest growing segment of the computer market.

All computer operating systems have a top-level administrative user that has "rights" to do anything on the system, such as delete or modify files that the ordinary user doesn't have "permission" to access, such as system files.

In the past, just about any computer system you were likely to buy gave you access to these administrative rights. In the MS Windows PC's this "super user" is called the Windows Administrator, in UNIX systems, which includes Linux, the Mac OS, the iPhone and Android, this super user is known simply as "root."

"Rooting" a phone simply means making available this super user so that you can make software modifications to the computer in your phone that you otherwise wouldn't be able to make. All computer makers make root access a special case because it is really easy to screw up your computer or phone if you wield those powers without knowing what you are doing, but before smartphones, you always got this "master key" whenever you bought a computer.

Smartphone makers, on the other hand, have generally made this super user completely unavailable. That is why it is also called "jail breaking" your phone when you do make it available. Beyond the possibility that you could really screw up your phone, it makes it possible to "un-lock" your phone's dependence on a single carrier and take it to the competition. That is one of the main reasons the major carriers have tried to make it technologically impossible and, having failed at that, have now used their clout with the government to make it illegal.

Beyond the freedom to take your smart phone to a different carrier, why would you want to "jail break" your smartphone?

One of the principal reasons sophisticated users "root" their phones is so that they can delete those apps that the carriers force on you that you may not need or want, such as Amazon MP3, Amazon Kindle and Blockbuster. They take up space and smartphone resources but they make the carriers money so they make it so you can't delete them, unless you can get root access.

There are also a lot of 3rd party apps out there that can be installed only if you have root access.

Finally, there is the question of privacy - especially from government snooping. Friends in the phone security business tell me that they can't secure iPhones or Blackberries. They can only secure Androids because they are open source, meaning we know exactly how they work and we can secure them. Provided, of course, that we have root access.

I know that there has been at least one other diary on this law. I wrote this dairy because I think more light needs to be shined on this law that will slip under most people's radar.

You see its a lot more than "The most crazy new law of 2013" or an attempt to keep you from jumping carriers with your new smartphone.

It is the first step in taking away rights that we have always taken for granted when we purchased a computer and a big step in taking away our control over the technology we use everyday.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also published an article on this today:
Is It Illegal To Unlock a Phone? The Situation is Better - and Worse - Than You Think

January 28, 2013 | By Mitch Stoltz
Legal protection for people who unlock their mobile phones to use them on other networks expired last weekend. According to the claims of major U.S. wireless carriers, unlocking a phone bought after January 26 without your carrier's permission violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) whether the phone is under contract or not. In a way, this is not as bad as it sounds. In other ways, it's even worse.

What changed? The DMCA prohibits "circumventing" digital locks that "control access" to copyrighted works like movies, music, books, games, and software. It's a fantastically overbroad law that bans a lot of legal, useful, and important activities. In what's supposed to be a safety valve, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress have the power to create exemptions for important activities that would otherwise be banned by the DMCA. In 2012, EFF asked for - and won - exemptions for jailbreaking or rooting mobile phones to run unapproved software, and for using clips from DVDs and Internet video in noncommercial vids. Consumers Union and several smaller wireless carriers asked for an exemption for unlocking phones. The Copyright Office granted their exemption too - but sharply limited the window to just a few months.

First, the good news. The legal shield for jailbreaking and rooting your phone remains up - it'll protect us at least through 2015. The shield for unlocking your phone is down, but carriers probably aren't going to start suing customers en masse, RIAA-style. And the Copyright Office's decision, contrary to what some sensational headlines have said, doesn't necessarily make unlocking illegal. More...
So those who have pointed out that "unlocking" is not the same as "jail breaking" or "rooting" are correct. Both are deemed illegal by the draconian DMCA.

As of yesterday "unlocking" your phone became illegal but your "right" to gain full access to the phone you legally own will expire in 2 years if nothing is done.

Also the EFF points out that:
If a court rules in favor of the carriers, penalties can be stiff - up to $2,500 per unlocked phone in a civil suit, and $500,000 or five years in prison in a criminal case where the unlocking is done for "commercial advantage." And this could happen even for phones that are no longer under contract. So we're really not free to do as we want with devices that we own.
So this rule applies even when the phone is no longer under contract and you have fulfilled your legal obligation to the carrier who subsided your purchase.

Bunny Huang has put out a petition supporting the EFF on this, 27143 people have signed it so far:

You bought it. You own it. Tell the Copyright Office: let me install whatever software I want on my phone, tablet, or video game system.Dear Ms. Pallante,

Whether it's patching a security vulnerability or homebrewing video games and apps, people who own smart phones, tablets, and video game systems are finding inventive ways to use and improve their devices. Often users need to gain full administrative access, through a process known as "jailbreaking," to innovate and take advantage of the device's full potential.

But right now, jailbreaking a device can lead to legal threats. That's a vulnerability in the law: we need you to create a "patch" so users who jailbreak devices won't be at legal risk.

Three years ago, the Copyright Office agreed to create an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act so that folks could jailbreak their smartphones. But that exemption is about to expire. We need you to renew that exemption and expand it to cover jailbreaking gadgets with similar computation potential. These are all siblings to the PC, yet unlocking their potential as versatile and powerful computers is burdened with legal murkiness.

We need these exemptions to conduct security research on devices to help safeguard everyday users from security threats. Furthermore, users of these products benefit from the flexibility to choose their own operating systems and run independently developed software. We need the law to catch up with how people are using technology.

Jailbreaking is helping to make technology better, more secure, and more flexible. Please defend the rights of users.

Thanks for enabling us to keep technology innovative, secure, and focused on the users.

The Tech News Daily wrote last February:
Software is considered to be copyrighted work, so jailbreaking your phone by changing its software could be considered "circumvention." The penalties, at least on paper, can be severe -- up to $25,000 – though it's unlikely to go that far. "I'd say people will be more at risk of getting threatening letters from lawyers," said Mitch Stoltz, staff attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.

Cellphone tinkerers got a reprieve in July 2010 when the U.S. Copyright Office agreed – based on input from EFF -- to exempt mobile devices from the DMCA. But the exemption is temporary, and will expire later this year if the government decides not to renew it.

Even now, it applies to only "wireless telephone handsets." It doesn't mention iPads and other tablets, though they often run the same software as the phones. It certainly doesn't cover other gadgets such as game consoles. In fact, Sony sued a man named George Hotz in 2011 for jailbreaking the PlayStation 3 to run additional software and for offering downloads on his website that would enable other people to do the same.

(We asked Sony on Wednesday and Thursday to comment, but they were unable to reply in time for publication. The same happened with Apple and Google.)

For that reason, EFF is asking not only for extension of the phone exemption, but also for protection for hacking tablets and game consoles. Stoltz is upbeat. "We're pretty confident that we've shown that there are a lot of legal and valid reasons for jailbreaking devices," he said.
So I think the essential thesis of this diary is correct, if premature. The government is intend on making you a criminal for "jail breaking" or "unlocking" you wholly owned computing device, and will unless enough people raise their voices above the clamor of the carriers for laws that enhance their profits.

This site sells software to root your Android. I have no connection to it and I'm not recommending that you purchase anything from them, you can do it for free, but it does have some very good info on the advantages of a rooted Android.

I haven't blogged on this subject much since the Arab Spring took over my life. There are some related diaries I've written in the past:

Happy 25th Birthday, Internet Engineering Task Force
EMERGENCY: DKos Must Act Now to Protect Tunisian Bloggers!
--- this dairy was my first link to the Arab Spring, it developed, oddly enough, from my blogging about Internet freedom!

Free Software & Internet Show Communism is Possible
Let a 100 Websites Blossom, Let a 100 Rooms of Chat Contend!
Bank of America Buying Abusive Domain Names
FCC Internet Rules! It's Not About Net Neutrality
WikiLeaks Revelations Spur UN & US Internet Takeover Plans!
BREAKING - Digital Sit-Ins: The Internet Strikes Back!
Cyber War Report: New Front Opens Against Internet Coup d'état
Operation PayBack: 1st Cyber War Begins over WikiLeaks
The Internet Takeover: Why Google is Next
BREAKING: Goodbye Internet Freedom as Wikileaks is Taken Down
BREAKING NEWS: Obama Admin Takes Control of Internet Domains!
From update to my diary of 19 Nov 2010:

But not to worry. Even if COICA passes the House and Senate and is signed into law by Obama, the DailyKos won't be affected. Not at first. It will be a death of a thousand cuts. First they will come for thepiratesbay.org because it's such an obvious target, and we can blog about that. Then they will come for WikiLeak, which is hosted by thepiratesbay servers, because not only are they disseminating materials in violation on copyright, they are threat to national security, and we can blog about that. By the time your bookmark for the DailyKos returns, "Server Not Found", they'll be no place left to blog.

UPDATE: VICTORY for now!!!!

I just receive this update from Aaron Swartz of DemandProgress.org:

Clay -- big news! Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send the Internet blacklist bill to the full Senate, but it was quickly stopped by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who denounced it as "a bunker-buster cluster bomb" aimed at the Internet and pledged to "do everything I can to take the necessary steps to stop it from passing the U.S. Senate."

Wyden's opposition practically guarantees the bill is dead this year -- and next year the new Congress will have to reintroduce the bill and start all over again. But even that might not happen: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Hollywood's own senator, told the committee that even she was uncomfortable with the Internet censorship portion of the bill and hoped it could be removed when they took it up again next year!
This is incredible -- and all thanks to you. Just a month ago, the Senate was planning to pass this bill unanimously; now even the senator from Hollywood is backing away from it. But this fight is far from over -- next year, there's going to be hearings, negotiations, and even more crucial votes. We need to be there, continuing to fight.

Stop Internet Blacklist Bill Now!
Sweet Victory on Internet Censorship: Senate Backs Off!
Internet Engineers tell the Senate to Back Off!
Why is Net Neutrality advocate Free Press MIA?
Obama's Internet Coup d'état
Julian Assange on Threat to Internet Freedom
FCC Net Neutrality's Trojan Horse

Would Net Neutrality Law Block WikiLeaks?
Free Press: Country Codes for the Internet?
The Mountain comes to Mohammad
Keith Olbermann's Deception
Court rules -> Google Must Be Evil & Maximize Profits
Where Al Franken is Wrong on Network Neutrality
EFF on the Google\Verizon Net Neutrality Proposal
Google-Verizon: What is the Free Press Agenda?
End of the Internet As We Know It!
Free Press would make this Illegal!
Will Android make Google Money?
Google Verizon Announce Terms of Deal


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