White House: It's time to legalize cell phone unlocking

The Obama Administration is making its opinion about cell phone unlocking crystal clear in a new memo.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

In what is sure to draw the attention (and disdain) of mobile providers nationwide, the Obama Administration is arguing that it's time to legalize cell phone unlocking.

In a follow up to a petition to the President, R. David Edelman, senior advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy, penned the response, declaring the White House's stance is 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."

Here's an excerpt from the memo issued on Monday:

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.

Edelman also noted that the White House has been working with telecommunications, technology, and copyright policy experts on this topic.

However, aside from putting some added pressure on mobile providers to take all of this into consideration as well as noting that the Federal Communications Commission has some responsibility here, Edelman refrained from commenting about any more action on this matter from the Oval Office.

Thus, don't expect any changes concerning cell phone locking to happen overnight, at the very least.

For now, this matter is in the hands of the FCC.

The commission's chairman, Julius Genachowski, also issued a statement on Monday, asserting that "The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress recently reversed its longstanding position and stated it is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for consumers to unlock new mobile phones, even those outside of contract periods, without their wireless providers’ permission, and that consumers are subject to criminal penalties if they do."

Genachowski added that the FCC will be "examining this issue" to determine whether or not it should take action, suggesting to Congress that it should also "consider a legislative solution."

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