Arresting Handset Unlockers?

It’s pretty well understood why mobile operators lock handsets to only their network. They’re subsidizing the purchase of the phone, and it’s a bad deal for them if the subscriber then takes that cheap phone and moves to another network. However, is it illegal to unlock your phone? As pointed out by Boing Boing and discussed in more detail by Carlo Longino at TheFeature, Hutchison’s Italian subsidiary Tre has had 30 people arrested for the practice of unlocking phones. Carlo rightly points out that this seems a bit extreme. Combined with ever longer contracts with high termination fees, it’s not really clear that the worries about people taking their phones and going elsewhere are even that justified. Furthermore, there’s plenty of legal precedent in other places, suggesting that once you’ve bought a tangible item, it’s your to do as you will with it. You bought it after all — even if you got it at a good deal, thanks to a provider subsidy. Besides, unlocking a phone is still not all that easy, and it seems unlikely that it’s being done by that many people to feel the need to go around and start arresting them.

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