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TechBusters: Is Jailbreaking or Rooting Illegal?

Welcome to TechBuster’s from Worldstart, where I expose the truth behind technology myths and sayings.

In this article I’ll talk about the popular saying about jailbreaking or rooting your smartphone and how it’s “illegal”. Before I get into whether the saying is true or not, let’s talk about what jailbreaking/rooting is.

Smart phones, (Apple iPhone, Android phones) come with an operating system that has certain core aspects locked so the user and applications can’t edit them. Examples of these locked-out features are loading core operating system modifications, installing non-approved applications, enabling wifi hotspot feature on a phone, and controlling what data an application can send/how it sends that data.

Manufacturers work with carriers to lock out settings they don’t want users to enable or change either due to charging for a feature or not wanting to support/allow a feature on a phone. Jailbreaking on iOS devices or rooting on Android devices gives you core access to the operating system to make pretty much any change you want.

So why jailbreak or root a device? Some people do it for illicit reasons (to use applications they haven’t purchased or to gain access to features they are not paying for), but other reasons do exist that aren’t quite so nefarious. For example, installing an application Apple did not approve for the app store requires a jailbroken phone or installing a newer version of Android the manufacturer has released requires root access.

So it’s illegal to do this? Not so much. 

The United States Library of Congress has ruled that jailbreaking or rooting devices does not violate copyright laws.  You may, however, be violating your warranty with the manufacturer and your service provider may cancel/bill you for services if you’re using them without paying for them – but you won’t be going to jail for installing a non-Apple approved application on your jailbroken iPhone.

P.S. Just to be clear, if you steal an application you are guilty of theft. This article only covers unlocking/jailbreaking/rooting the device, not what you do once the device is unlocked.