IN January, a controversial decision from the Library of Congress went into effect, making it officially illegal to unlock a cell phone under the
Digital Millennium Copyright act (DMCA). Critics argued that how people treat a purchased phone should have nothing to do with copyright law, and a petition quickly went up on the We The People platform.
That petition hit the required 100,000 signatures last month, and today the White House responded, throwing the considerable weight of the Obama administration behind legalizing cell phone unlocking. White House aide R. David Edelman writes:
“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.”
The White House is a powerful ally, but any action needs to come from Congress. Edelman recommends narrow legislative fixes that would make it absolutely clear that “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.”
We’ll be hearing more about specific plans from information freedom advocates soon. Until then, they can claim a first, crucial victory.