Mobile Technology

White House Agrees, You Shouldn't Go to Jail For Unlocking Cellphones, FCC Looking to Get More Involved

Library of Congress ended exemption that permitted unlocking cellphones last year.

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The White House responded today to a petition calling for the decriminalization of the act of unlocking your phone (making it possible to use with another service provider once you're off-contract), saying it agrees that the practice should be allowed. It was considered illegal under the Digital Copyright Millennium Act until an exemption issued by the Library of Congress in 2006 that was not renewed last year. Ars Technica reports on the response:

"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," writes R. David Edelman, a White House advisor. "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." 

…Edelman's statement ends by calling for "narrow legislative fixes" that would make it clear: unlocking your cell phone isn't a crime. In addition to legislation, the White House also calls for the FCC to play a role. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski released a statement (PDF) this morning saying that his agency is "looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones."

What would the FCC need to be involved with? If federal law prevents you from unlocking your phone, then repealing the law ought to suffice. After all, it's not technical limitations that thwart phone unlocking.

The petition that yielded the White House response was backed by  Derek Khanna, the author of a memo by the Republican Study Committee that engaged copyright as an entitlement issue. The memo was withdrawn after it caused too much of a stir in Washington and Hollywood, and Khanna no longer works for the RSC. He talked to Reason TV about that memo and the petition to allow phone-unlocking last month:

More Reason on copyright

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  1. If citizens are allowed to just unlock their phones willy-nilly, what’s DHS supposed to do with their snazzy new armored vehicles with all the gunports?

  2. “”It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive…”

    Notice that autonomy over one’s possessions isn’t mentioned.

    1. The what over what what?

  3. What would the FCC need to be involved with?

    You are using the King’s Airwaves.

  4. Look! See all the freedoms our President is creating! The RethugKochtards just don’t GET it.

  5. What’s the penalty, anyway?

  6. Well. That’s mighty white of them.

  7. First principles…

    It is idiotic that unlocking a cell phone you own should get you charged with a crime. On this, we are agreed.

    But, who makes laws around here? Does congress do that, or does the White House? The FCC? The Library of Congress?

    This “solution” (or path thereto) just perpetuates the dismissal of constitutional division of powers among the branches of government. The myriad of agencies that decree “rules” are effectively legislating. If congress wants agencies to legislate, then they need a constitutional amendment.

    1. This law was created by Congress.

      The only thing the FCC memo says is that it should look into steps it could take, but that it urges Congress to come up with a legislative fix.

      It’s not like you guys have a consistent view with respect to how much power the bureaucracies should have to trump the will of Congress (see: Drug War), so just be happy that the FCC is for more freedom in this case.

    2. I understand it thusly: Congress wrote a law, but granted the Library of Congress the power to make certain exemptions. The power of the Library of Congress is executive, and is therefore an extension of the power of the president. So, the president should be able, perhaps with some limitations (“advice and consent” and all that) to rein in unruly subordinates.

      Giving the executive branch in general or the president in particular quasi-legislative powers is iffy at best, but we can analogize this to other presidential powers. He can pardon criminals who have been convicted by the courts for disobeying laws passed by Congress. He can write executive orders, which govern the actions of the agents executing the laws. It seems to me that the president can effectively nullify a law if he chooses to instruct the DoJ enforce it or deprioritize it into effective oblivion.

      That said, I agree with you. This shouldn’t be in the court of the Library of Congress or the President. Congress can and should make this decision and then be held accountable come election time. The Librarian of Congress seems to be one of the most insulated people in the Executive Branch, having served since the 1980s and being only the 13th Librarian in US history.

      1. *instruct the DoJ to not enforce it …

      2. The LIbrary of Congress is a legislative entity not executive.

  8. Although they took a different path to get there, the White House has, all the same, arrived at the same conclusion on this issue as I have.

    I clearly need to re-examine my position.

  9. lol, for ONCE they get it right. Wow.

    http://www.AnonProx.da.bz

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  11. President Obama’s views on phone unlocking are evolving.

  12. I don’t know what to do so I’ll get the FCC to do something, anything.

  13. Why in FUCK does the LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS get to decide unilaterally whether or not I can unlock my cell phone anyway?

    Is there some law on the books that lets the White House Dog Trainer decide which direction toilets will swirl when they flush?

    There are times when it’s quite clear that nobody reads the bills they vote on, or sign.

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