At the end of January, it became technically illegal for you to unlock your phone without your carrier’s permission, even if your contract had expired. The call was made by the Librarian of Congress, who (for some reason) oversees exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and decided that cellphone unlockers would no longer get a pass.
This didn’t sit well with righteous nerds and startup folks, and so a San Francisco man named Sina Khanifar started collecting signatures on the White House’s petition platform, pleading that the Obama administration “ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal.” The petition reached 114,322 signatures, obligating the administration to respond.
That response came today. It’s titled, “It’s Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking,” and it’s pretty full-throated in its support:
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.
Of course, there’s really not all that much the White House can do, except call on other parties to do something:
We look forward to continuing to work with Congress, the wireless and mobile phone industries, and most importantly you — the everyday consumers who stand to benefit from this greater flexibility — to ensure our laws keep pace with changing technology, protect the economic competitiveness that has led to such innovation in this space, and offer consumers the flexibility and freedoms they deserve.
The White House says they’ve even support “narrow legislative fixes,” but let’s face it, getting Congress to cooperate isn’t going so great.
But that doesn’t seem to phase Mr. Khanifar, who has undertaken the broader goal of fixing the DMCA itself. He told Betatbeat in a statement,
While I think this is wonderful, I think the real culprit here is Section 1201 of the DMCA, the controversial “anti-circumvention provision.” I discussed with the White House the potential of pushing to have that provision amended or removed, and they want to continue that conversation. I’ll have exciting news on the campaign to make this happen tomorrow.
He also tweeted that he’d be “Launching a website tomorrow to campaign for fixing the DMCA properly. Will see what happens!”
Just spitballing here, but we’re guessing what’ll happen is the glacially paced federal government will test Mr. Khanifer’s patience to its very limits.