In February, a petition calling for an end to the ban on unlocking cell phones was introduced. In a short amount of time, the petition received the requisite 100,000 signatures needed to elicit a possible White House responsible. Today, the administration did indeed respond to the petition and it appears the White House is in favor of letting consumers unlock their phones.
In a reply titled "It's Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking", the White House shows its support for the petition. "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." the White House stated.
The response later continues, "The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: 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."
Unlike jailbreaking -- which has remained a legal practice since 2010 -- unlocking a phone frees it from being restricted to a single carrier. By contrast, "jailbreaking" simply allows tinkerers to modify the software on a smartphone.
The administration's response also states, "In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones." Currently, not only is unlocking a device a criminal offense, but so is jailbreaking tablets and game console.
The practice of unlocking cell phones is banned by a blanket provision of the DMCA which prohibits the circumvention of any mechanism intended to restrict access to media, software or technology. Naturally, that includes cell phones. However, the activity was briefly unbanned during 2012 when the Library of Congress granted a temporary but explicit exemption for unlockers. Sadly, the LoC's decision expired later that year and the rule was never reinstated.
Interestingly, the FCC also chimed in on the subject last week, voicing concerns over the ban's effect on innovation and competition.
Conceivably, a growing preponderance of public, governmental support for unlocking could prompt Congress to pass legislation -- or at the very least encourage the Library of Congress -- to legalize unlocking cell phones once and for all.