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Hezbollah sting bust sees first phone-unlock DMCA conviction

Mass terrorist jailbreaking not same as fanboi freedom

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A Philadelphia federal court has accepted a guilty plea from one Mohamad Majed, who admitted breaching the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in unlocking thousands of phones for resale.

The phones were locked to TracFone, a virtual operator in the US which specialises in pre-paid connections and heavily-subsidised handsets. TracFone has pursued mass unlockers before, but this is the first time anyone has been convicted of breaching the DMCA by unlocking a phone.

The DMCA makes the act of circumventing protection techniques against the law, even if not for commercial gain. That law was clarified earlier this year to exempt subsidised phones that had been used on the subsiding operator's network. Jailbreaking your own phone was declared legal in July this year, despite Apple's objections.

Not that it was unlocked phones that attracted the authorities. Their attention was grabbed by a "suspicious loading of carpets late at night", which was reported by a nearby curtain-twitcher and resulted in a sting operation that exposed a Hezbollah funding operation and led to 16 arrests - that story is at the Philadelphia Inquirer and makes interesting reading.

But almost a year later one of the accused has pled guilty to breaching the DMCA by unlocking phones prior to shipping them abroad. This still isn't grounds to panic in normal circumstances - personal unlocking for use beyond the subsidised period is still exempted - but if you're shipping thousands of handsets abroad with a view to funding a designated terrorist organisation, take heed. ®

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