It is now a crime to unlock your smartphone

The Atlantic calls this the most ridiculous law of 2013

(so far)


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.

I have deep sympathy for any individual who happens to get jail time for this offense. I am sure that other offenders would not take kindly to smartphone un-lockers.

But seriously: It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that we are at the mercy of prosecutorial and judicial discretion** to avoid the implementation of draconian laws that could implicate average Americans in a crime subject to up to a $500,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

If people see this and respond, well no one is really going to get those types of penalties, my response is: Why is that acceptable? While people’s worst fears may be a bit unfounded, why do we accept a system where we allow such discretionary authority? If you or your child were arrested for this, would it comfort you to know that the prosecutor and judge could technically throw the book at you? Would you relax assuming that they probably wouldn’t make an example out of you or your kid? When as a society did we learn to accept the federal government having such Orwellian power?

Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies, is right. The real fight is between the innovators and the stasists.

Q: Is your book about politics?

A: This isn’t really a book about politics. It’s about how we as a society learn. It looks at a wide range of examples, from Vidal Sassoon’s hairstyling innovations to the connection between optical lens technology and the artistry of Citizen Kane. Newt Gingrich does put in an appearance, but mostly to praise beach volleyball. What’s political about the book is that it says our biggest political divide today is over whether you allow trial-and-error learning to take place—whether you’re comfortable with the open-ended, unknown future.

Q: To the extent that it is about politics, your book completely defies the conventional mindset of left vs. right. What’s going on?

A: Our conventional left-right categories don’t work on a lot of very hot ssues. They don’t tell us why Pat Buchanan and Jeremy Rifkin can go on Crossfire and spend the whole show agreeing with each other that the future looks bleak and economic change is dangerous. They don’t explain why “left-wing” environmentalists and “right-wing” nativists both oppose immigration. They don’t tell us why people on both the left and the right are denouncing popular culture, Wal-Mart, international trade, and the Internet. And they don’t explain why you also have a left-right convergence in the opposite direction: “conservatives” and “liberals” who support open markets, technological innovation, new media competition, or a simpler, less manipulative tax code. The old categories don’t explain why both the left and the right seem to have cracked up. Something important is going on that conventional political and cultural analysts are missing.

Q: What does this new landscape look like?

A: On one side of the new political landscape you have what I call “stasists.” They view the future as a dangerous abyss. To avoid the abyss, some stasists want a return to some imagined, more stable past. These stasists would include such people as Pat Buchanan and Jeremy Rifkin, or the anti-technology activist Kirkpatrick Sale, who goes around smashing computers to illustrate his speeches. Other stasists want to build a safe “bridge” to the future. They want to control the future. You get a lot of that among politicians. In either case, stasists first decide the one best future for everyone and then they work to impose it. On the other side of the new political landscape are what I call “dynamists.” They see the future as an exciting process of experimentation and learning. That process has many different outcomes, for different people. There isn’t “one best way.” Dynamists celebrate such open-ended processes as scientific inquiry, market competition, artistic innovation, or technological invention. So they include people like Freeman Dyson, writing about science; or Tom Peters, looking at business innovation; or Stewart Brand, writing about How Buildings Learn; or the whole Wired crowd.



About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
This entry was posted in Politics/Foreign correspondents. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to It is now a crime to unlock your smartphone

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