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

By on March 5, 2013, 5:00 PM

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.




User Comments: 19

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2 people like this | Guest said:

I'm not American, but... good. Cell phones should come unlocked. Of course if you're buying on a term contract for a reduced price, then you're still responsible for the value of the phone. :)

misor misor said:

I agree with guest 1.

as much as possible, phones should come unlocked.

for subsidized phones, networks should be mandated to unlock them automatically after a certain time or for phone manufacturers to provide the unlocking tool.

1 person liked this | cmbjive said:

How about allowing phones to be unlocked after the two year term expires?

Khanonate said:

All phones should be unlocked.

MrJoas MrJoas said:

Think about it. Not everyone purchases a phone at the reduced "new customer" price. My wife and I both paid full price for our SG3's because our previous phones where VERY outdated and our upgrade date was more than a year away. My son has our old iphone3 (not s) and is through a different carrier. Currently, we can't use that phone outside of that carrier. Please, dear god, please unlock phones so we can use his phone with the carrier the rest of our family has!

1 person liked this | TS-56336 TS-56336 said:

What is most embarrassing is the penalty. How on earth anything you do with your $100 phone could bring 5 years in prison or $500,000 fine? It seems different laws are not in line with each other at all.

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Fascism at work. Goodbye cheap phones on contract.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I disagree!!!

Where will this stop? If we can push for unlocked phones, whats next motherboards and CPU's? If every CPU was completely unlocked, there would not be any budget minded options available. Think about this as you wish for unlocked phones.

1 person liked this | Emexrulsier said:

Sod making it legal to unlock phones why not make it illegal for carriers to lock phone

matrix86 matrix86 said:

This is funny, because you know the cell carriers are all standing around saying "...............uh, yeah, we really don't care." I remember all the news stations reporting the ban and they all said the carriers had said they weren't enforcing it and wouldn't actively seek out those who unlocked. The DMCA was just getting all up in the carriers' business when they didn't even ask for it. Hey, DMCA, don't try to fix what isn't broken. Thank you.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Not being an American & not being too familiar with phone locking (or phones in general), maybe the carriers should unlock the phones once the contract is up. On another note is jailbreaking the same or similar to rooting?

Guest said:

@ cliffordcooley,

Most motherboards and CPUs you can buy (separately) to build your own computer with [not talking about the ones in pre-built PCs/portables] are already unlocked. ;-/

AMD unlocked their CPUs years ago, and Intel is (more recently) following in their footsteps, they figured out enthusiast system builders' market is worthy of investing.

Before CPUs became (more or less) unlocked, motherboard manufacturers offered extensive unlocking/tweaking/workaround features, just for the purpose of attracting overclockers/enthusiasts/gamers.

I build all my PCs by hand since 1994, and *all* motherboards I have ever purchased had some kind of overclocking/overvoltage/multiplier/tweaking facilities. ;-)

So if most computer components are unlocked [the customer pays more money for better features, it's called competition ;-/], why lock smart phones? Aren't modern phones just miniaturized computers?

Locked phones = anti-competitive strategies :-(

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

So if most computer components are unlocked [the customer pays more money for better features, it's called competition ;-/], why lock smart phones? Aren't modern phones just miniaturized computers?

Locked phones = anti-competitive strategies :-(

I was under the impression, you could purchase unlocked phones. And that the locked phones was the phones given with contracts. Was I under a false impression reading the article as wanting to unlock all phones?

If you can purchase unlocked phones, I don't understand your argument. After all when purchasing a contract its not the phone you are purchasing but the contract, which just so happens to come with a phone so you can use the contract. So under this contract it really doesn't matter if you have a phone or not once the contract is broken(or run its course).

howzz1854 said:

So if most computer components are unlocked [the customer pays more money for better features, it's called competition ;-/], why lock smart phones? Aren't modern phones just miniaturized computers?

Locked phones = anti-competitive strategies :-(

I was under the impression, you could purchase unlocked phones. And that the locked phones was the phones given with contracts. Was I under a false impression reading the article as wanting to unlock all phones?

If you can purchase unlocked phones, I don't understand your argument. After all when purchasing a contract its not the phone you are purchasing but the contract, which just so happens to come with a phone so you can use the contract. So under this contract it really doesn't matter if you have a phone or not once the contract is broken(or run its course).

you're missing the whole point of the article. it's saying that after the new DMCA rule, and the library of congress failed to renew the law, you can no longer purchase unlocked phones, because it'll be illegal. there will only be one choice and one choice only, locked phones for everyone for a predetermined price by the carrier.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

you're missing the whole point of the article.
I'm not so sure I am missing the point. Your trying to tell me that phones should not be used by contract as a tool to keep you in a contract. Contracts should be looked at as a concrete reason to stay out of them to begin with. I'm saying if you don't want to be bound by the rules of a contract, then don't enter the contract. The phone is the foundation behind the contracts existence. You take away this tool and the foundation of the contract will cease to exist.

What is so hard to understand about purchasing a phone of your choice and then going to whoever for service, while doing so without ever creating a contract? Have things gotten so bad that you cannot get service unless you enter a contract?

1 person liked this | howzz1854 said:

you're missing the whole point of the article.
I'm not so sure I am missing the point. Your trying to tell me that phones should not be used by contract as a tool to keep you in a contract. Contracts should be looked at as a concrete reason to stay out of them to begin with. I'm saying if you don't want to be bound by the rules of a contract, then don't enter the contract. The phone is the foundation behind the contracts existence. You take away this tool and the foundation of the contract will cease to exist.

What is so hard to understand about purchasing a phone of your choice and then going to whoever for service, while doing so without ever creating a contract? Have things gotten so bad that you cannot get service unless you enter a contract?

you're deviating farther and farther away from the original topic, no one, not me mentioned anything about contracts. the simple fact is that the article mentioned that without library of congress renewing the law, and the new DMCA rule, you can no longer purchase an unlocked phone that'll allow you to take it wherever and use it on whatever network you want, regardless of contracts, because it would be illegal, zero. none. all you're left with is one phone that's locked, and bound to one carrier. I am sure you can still find locked phones for each network that'll allow you to pay as you go, without having you sign anything, but the phones will still be locked. how stupid would it be having to buy the same phone again just to use on another network. THAT is the point. it's not about contracts.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Thank you for clearing that up, you were correct. I was missing the point. How will this effect the phones that uses sims chips vs those that don't?

howzz1854 said:

I would imagine it'll still be locked doesn't matter what type of standard it is. it's just different locking mechanism for different network standard. people were still able to unlock a CDMA phone AND a SIM based phone, different standard, but the locking mechanism is just different. but doesn't change the fact that as oppose to frown upon in the past, now it will be illegal and the user can be put in jail for unlocking it. unless the Library of Congress do something or the administration do something.

Guest said:

Are you kidding It's already legal and easy to do this to CPU s and Motherboards oh forgot YOU DON'T NEED TO the only thing with CPU s is there base if base is the same your good to go, Maybe you got confused on what over cocking is(and it's legal). I have a MSI in a HP tower right next to me as far a motherboards go.

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