Jailbreaking must be legal, but should you do it?

You will be hard pressed to findsomeone who find the practise of applying technology locks to someoneelses property more reprehensible than I do. This is what I feel ofthe practise of companies like Apple and Sony who sell technologywhere they, not the owner, retain the keys to the technology andtreat their owners as attackers of their own property. I believethat this practise should be clearly outlawed, while backward facinglegislation such as the Conservative Bill C-32 seeks to legallyprotect it.

While this is true, Irecommend against what has become the most common form ofjailbreaking.

The USA has a less nastyversion of legal protection of this business practise than theConservative Bill C-32. As part of the Digital Millennium CopyrightAct (DMCA), the U.S. Copyright office convenes a rule making processevery three years. This round the ElectronicFrontier Foundation proposed an exception for jailbreaking,whichwas granted. The most vocalopponent was Apple, which aggressively defended theirbusiness practises.

I have even less respect forApple's position on this than EFF's Fred von Lohmann. If Apple wants to retain the keys fordevices that they are distributing to other people, the law shouldforce them to be more honest than they have wanted to be thus far.

In order for the peoplepossessing technology to be prohibited from changing the locks, theyshould be properly notified that they are not owners. It would beperfectly legitimate for Apple to retain ownership, and have peoplewhen they acquire Apple technology to sign a technology use agreementwhich lays out all the conditions of this arrangement. All thebalance of contract and other law would exist in this relationshipwhich has many more similarities to a rental agreement than apurchase agreement. Users of Apple technology would understand theirrights and responsibilities in their relationship with Apple, andwouldn't be dishonestly confused into thinking that they wereactually purchasing Apple hardware in the same sense as they mightpurchase other tangible goods.

Once Apple is forced by thelegal system to be more honest, Apple technology users would be ableto make better informed choices about whether they wish to sign ontosuch contractual arrangements. The markets would then be able todevice, something that this dishonest relationship misinformation(DRM) has thus far prohibited. Technology users have other optionsavailable to them under other contractual arrangements, each of whichshould require under adequately enforced Canadian law a level oftransparency such that users are able to make informed choices. InCanada the body tasked with enforcement of competition, consumerpackaging and labelling law is the CompetitionBureau. This bureau should be given a strong mandate toenforce a minimum level of honesty on these companies.

When you unlock or jailbreaktechnology, there are a variety of reasons you may be doing so.

People who unlock their SonyPlayStation 3 are most often doing it so that they can installcompeting operating systems such as Linux which allows them to expandthe functionality of the hardware. Installing a competing operatingsystem was previously a featuresupported by Sony. When Sony removed this feature, ownersresorted not only to jailbreaking but also launching lawsuits againstSony.

On the other hand, many peopleare unlocking their iPhones so that they can install applicationsoftware that has not been approved to be installed via the Apple appstore on iTunes.

When you unlock a device toinstall a competing operating system, you receive all the benefits ofthis new environment including the security patches and othercritical updates. When you unlock a device, but keep the originaloperating system, you end up with an inherently insecure system asyou are now in a battle not only with third party attackers but alsoyour security vendor.

When the U.S. Copyrightoffice clarified that jailbreaking didn't constitute circumventionunder their DMCA, a number of websites launched that would allow youto jailbreak your iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. These sites made useof security vulnerabilities in Apples iOS, which when discoveredApple will quickly fix.

Think about this: In order tobe able to jailbreak your iOS you are making use of flaws in thesoftware, which the software vendor is going to fix once discovered. If you keep unpatched software around, you are then running acomputer — often actively accessing and accessible by the Internet– which has known security vulnerabilities. If you keep youroperating system patches up-to-date, the activity criticallyrecommended for any computer that is network connected, then thejailbreaking of your device keeps being re-locked.

This is a no-win situation,and one that should be avoided.

I believe people need to takethis into consideration, and make use of alternatives.

  • Purchase hardware where thevendor offers you an arrangement that you are happy with. In my caseI run hardware that is compatible with, or preferably shipped withFree/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) operating systems. Mydesktops and servers all run traditional Linux distributions such asCentOS and Ubuntu, and mycell phone runs Android.
  • If you do unlock a device,replace the operating system and other software such that you end upwith a properly secure system. Do not retain the original operatingsystem whose vendor then becomes an attacker against your device, onewith intimate knowledge of how the system works.

Whatever hardware and softwarechoices you make, please get involved in the legal issues. Pleaseensure that your member of parliament knows you oppose thelegalization and legal protection of these business practises. Currently this means amendments to Bill C-32, or otherwise rejectingthe bills passing. On BillC32.ca we have a FAQ where you canlearn more, and aform letter you can send to your MP to make your viewsheard.

Russell McOrmond is a self employed consultant,policy coordinator for CLUE:Canada's Association for Free/Libre and Open Source Software,co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments (GOSLING),and host for DigitalCopyright Canada.

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