More unintended consequences of laws which are too broadly worded.

The Atlantic writer Derek Khanna recently named the Most Ridiculous New Law – 2013 a provision which previously had been waived but has come back making it illegal to “unlock” your cellphone.  And while there is plenty of time left in this year for more inanity, it is hard to imagine another one that could compete.

This is now the law of the land:




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.*

That’s right, starting this weekend it is illegal to unlock new phones to make them available on other carriers.

And exactly when was it decided that unlocking your Smartphone qualifies as a crime? Khanna provides some background on how this law came to be:

Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to outlaw technologies that bypass copyright protections. This sounds like a great idea, but in practice it has terrible, and widely acknowledged, negative consequences that affect consumers and new innovation. The DMCA leaves it up to the Librarian of Congress (LOC) to issue exemptions from the law, exceptions that were recognized to be necessary given the broad language of the statute that swept a number of ordinary acts and technologies as potential DMCA circumvention violations.

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. Can you imagine a more ridiculous regulation than one that requires a lobby group for the blind to come to Capitol Hill every three years to explain that the blind still can’t read books on their own and therefore need this exception?

Until recently it was illegal to jailbreak your own iPhone, and after Saturday it will be illegal to unlock a new smartphone, thereby allowing it to switch carriers. This is a result of the exception to the DMCA lapsing. It was not a mistake, but rather an intentional choice by the Librarian of Congress, that this was no longer fair use and acceptable. The Electronic Frontier Foundation among other groups has detailed the many failings of the DMCA Triennial Rulemaking process, which in this case led to this exception lapsing.

“Washington D.C.’s  overreaching focus on  intellectual property minutia should chill everyone to their core,” says San Diego Citizen activist and the SoCal Tax Revolt Coalition’s social media expert Sarah B.  “And while everyone is distracted with the newly enhanced attacks on our Second Amendment privileges, let’s not forget that  hobbling the First  is their real goal.”

The article notes that it is conservatives that are fighting the law and pushing back on other similar restrictions. In part, it is because it is the new media and technologies that offer Americans a choice in selecting different political views. Interestingly, when it comes to this type of choice, progressives don’t seem to be quite on the same page.

Khanna concludes:

I for one am pro-choice with regard to my smartphone. Our representatives ought to be, as well.