White House, FCC agree that unlocking cellphones should be legal

Masses were in uproar after it was ruled that it in the USA, it was illegal for a third-party to unlock your cellphone due to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Engadget went in-depth about the new phone unlocking policy, while a ‘We the People’ petition collected 114,322 signatures to make unlocking cell phones legal again. R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation and Privacy, responded for the White House:

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs -- even if it isn't the one on which the device was first activated. All consumers deserve that flexibility. 

White House agrees with petition that unlocking mobile devices should be legal

The White House reply also points to the Library of Congress statement issued today that states, “We also agree with the administration that the question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy and that it would benefit from review and resolution in that context.” The Library of Congress added:

The rulemaking is a technical, legal proceeding and involves a lengthy public process. It requires the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights to consider exemptions to the prohibitions on circumvention, based on a factual record developed by the proponents and other interested parties. The officials must consider whether the evidence establishes a need for the exemption based on several statutory factors. It does not permit the U.S. Copyright Office to create permanent exemptions to the law. As designed by Congress, the rulemaking serves a very important function, but it was not intended to be a substitute for deliberations of broader public policy.

It talks about how the U.S. Copyright Office believes the 1201 rulemaking can be like a “barometer,” but if that were true then surely it would be in the red as many people are fed up with various shades of copyright cops and increasingly stupid decisions like Six Strikes.

The FCC also issued a statement today, writing [PDF], “From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.”

White House agrees unlocking cellphones should be legal

So, in reality, what is going to happen to change this unpopular and unwise move making the unlocking of cellphones illegal?  The White House agreed with the FCC statement calling for legislation, adding that the “Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.”

Here is the White House response in full; here is the FCC's statement and here is the statement from the Library of Congress.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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