Cell Phone Laws in the U.S.

Guide to Laws About Cell Phones in the United States

1. Unlocking your phone

If I request my cell phone carrier to “unlock” my phone, do they need to do it?

After you have fully paid for your cell phone (which may include finishing your phone service contract), you have the right to “unlock” your phone in order to switch carriers.1Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act of 2014

One thing to note is that because phones are usually manufactured for use with only one type of network, GSM or CDMA, unlocking your phone only allows you to switch to a different carrier that uses the same network. For example, you could switch between Verizon and Sprint (which both use CDMA) or between T-Mobile and AT&T (which both use GSM).

2. Privacy

Can the police search through my cell phone?

Law enforcement may not search the contents of your cellphone without getting a warrant, even if you are arrested.2Riley v CA (2014); U.S. Const., 4th amendment

NOTE: In general, when police want to search a person or their stuff, they must convince a judge that they will find evidence of a crime in the search, and if the judge agrees, he/she will issue a warrant. But when police arrest a suspect, they have the right to search that person, even without a warrant to do so. However, this does NOT extend to the content of cellphones.

Can police track my location through my cell phone?

Law enforcement may not obtain your location data through cell tower data from your phone carrier unless they get a warrant.3Carpenter v U.S. (2018)

See more about searches and police conduct generally.

3. Jamming your signal

Are jammers illegal?

Companies or individuals may not block or interfere with your cell phone signal, personal Wi-Fi hotspot, Wi-Fi network, or GPS. Violators are subject to significant fines or jail time.4Communications Act, Section 333; as interpreted by Federal Communications Commission

4. “Cramming”

Can cell phone carriers add charges to my bill without my consent?

Cell phone companies may not add charges to your bill from outside companies without your clear consent, must clearly identify these charges as from outside companies, and must give you the option to block the charges. This practice is called “cramming.”

See more about consumer rights.

5. Robo calls

Are robo calls to cell phones illegal?

Yes. See more at our Guide to Consumer Rights

Exercise Your Rights

Related Pages

Guide to Laws About Technology

Guide to Laws for Consumers


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