Jailed for jailbreaking: The new law could land you in the slammer

iOS 6.1 has been released and a jailbreak for it is promised on Sunday. Jail time could follow thereafter ...

I know why you're excited: You can't wait for your iDevice to update to iOS 6.1 which was just released. Now Siri will be able to misunderstand what movie you want to see and present you with a link to Fandango. Or she may, as usual, think you want to dial the number of the nearest Chinese restaurant. And thus does technology march onward.

And as tech progresses so does the hacking of tech. A group of hackers going by the name "evad3rs" just announced that on Sunday, Feb. 3, it will release an untethered jailbreak for iOS 6.1 on the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad Mini, iPad 4, iPad 3, iPad 2, iPod Touch 4G, iPod Touch 5G, AppleTv 2G and, possibly, the AppleTv 3G.

Although I'm sure you are familiar with jailbreaking, for the uninitiated, suffice it to say it is the process of freeing a phone from limitations originally imposed by the supplier, while retaining normal functions such as making telephone calls, accessing data networks and so on.

[ IN THE NEWS: iPhone hackers hint at progress towards iOS 6 jailbreak 

MORE: 15 Apps and Tweaks That May Convince You to Jailbreak Your iPhone ]

In Apple's case, one of the big limitations jailbreaking overcomes is the ability to install software from sources other than the Apple App Store. It also allows apps to access the iOS filesystem and permits all kinds of customizations and modifications that Apple doesn't allow or support ... or, for that matter, approve of.

An "untethered" jailbreak is one where the modifications to iOS are permanent and will be in place and operative when iOS is restarted. A "tethered" jailbreak requires the modifications to be reinstalled every time the iDevice is restarted, so obviously an untethered jailbreak is preferable if you're going to do such a thing ... and jailbreaking is, potentially, not without its problems.

First of all software that hasn't gone through the Apple compliance verification program can behave badly and use too many resources (including battery power) or compromise system stability.

But as problematic as jailbreaking can be technically, it is even more problematic legally, and in the U.S. the legality of jailbreaking is rather complicated while in, for example, Canada the Canadian Copyright Act makes jailbreaking a crime.

In the U.S. there is, however, a new legal issue that makes jailbreaking potentially a huge risk: Once a cellphone is jailbroken it can be "unlocked," meaning it can be used with any carrier, and that has just become a crime.

The wretched Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) made it illegal to use hardware or software to remove copyright protection from copyrighted works. The DMCA has provisions for granting exceptions and these are managed by the Library of Congress. The LoC granted an exception to unlocking cellphones because unlocking has nothing to do with copyright. But, the forces of big business applied the political thumbscrews and, as of Jan. 26, due to prodding by "CTIA -The Wireless Association," the Library of Congress revised its position and eliminated that exemption for phones purchased after 2012.

Now, should you decide to jailbreak and then unlock your own brand new cellphone -- one that you own outright -- you could be taken to court and fined. And if you are one of the many businesses offering unlocking services or software, you could find yourself facing criminal charges under the DMCA subsection 1204 "Criminal offenses and penalties":

(a) IN GENERAL.—Any person who violates section 1201 or 1202 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain—

(1) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and

(2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense

So, jailbreaking an iDevice could void the warranty on the device and violate a copyright law depending on the country you're in, as well as get you fined and even sent to jail. You could be jailed for jailbreaking.

Gibbs is a free man in Ventura, Calif., and plans to stay that way. Confess your lawlessness to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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