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 The memo was withdrawn after it caused too much of a stir in Washington and Hollywood, and Khanna no longer works for the RSC.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