White House opposes phone unlocking ban

If you think you should be able to unlock your own mobile phone without consequence, you’ve got an ally at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Responding to a citizen petition, the Obama administration on Monday called for the legalization of cell phone unlocking. “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,” R. David Edelman, the president’s senior adviser for Internet, innovation, and piracy, wrote in an official response released by the White House.

Edelman was responding to a petition started by 27-year-old app developer Sina Khanifar, opposing the Librarian of Congress’s decision to making unlocking a mobile phone a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That decision went into effect in January.

Khanifar’s petition, created through the White House’s petitioning site had garnered more than 114,000 signatures since its creation on January 24. That was more than enough to merit an official response from the Obama Administration.

Edelman said the matter deserves further consideration, as cell phone unlocking is “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 plans to take up the issue with the Federal Communications Commission, which released its own statement opposing the ban.

“From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn’t pass the common sense test,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in the statement. “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.”

Library of Congress responds

Congressional Librarian James Hadley Billington

The ban was not a result of Congressional action or FCC guidelines, but the Library of Congress’s interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Librarian of Congress determined that cell phone unlocking, which was previously exempt from restrictions, violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Exemptions are revisited every three years, so Congress would have to draft and pass legislation legalizing cell phone unlocking.

The Library of Congress in its response to the White House statement said copyright rules are “not intended to be a substitute for deliberations of broader public policy.” In other words, if the government wants to legalize cell phone unlocking, Congress will need to do the heavy lifting, as the copyright office is not allowed to create permanent exemptions.

“Both the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights value our colleagues in the administration and the thoughtful discussions we have had with them on this issue,” the Library of Congress said in its statement. “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.”

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Smartphone News Newsletter

Comments