White House Responds To ‘Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal’ Petition


That was surprisingly quick! The White House has given its official response to the “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal” petition, which had received over 100,000 signatures.

You probably know by now that unlocking a cell phone is illegal in the U.S. as it would be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Many consumers disagreed with this and started a White House petition, which appealed to the U.S. President to ask the Librarian of Congress, who originally deemed unlocking illegal in October last year, to reconsider the decision given the legitimate reasons a customer might want to unlock his or her carrier locked phone.

The petition needed 100,000 signatures to get an official response from the White House, which was achieved two days before the deadline.

Here’s the official response from the White House to that petition:

Thank you for sharing your views on cell phone unlocking with us through your petition on our We the People platform. Last week the White House brought together experts from across government who work on telecommunications, technology, and copyright policy, and we’re pleased to offer our response.

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.

This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs — even if it isn’t the one on which the device was first activated. All consumers deserve that flexibility.

The White House’s position detailed in this response builds on some critical thinking done by the President’s chief advisory Agency on these matters: the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). For more context and information on the technical aspects of the issue, you can review the NTIA’s letter to the Library of Congress’ Register of Copyrights (.pdf), voicing strong support for maintaining the previous exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for cell phone carrier unlocking.

Contrary to the NTIA’s recommendation, the Librarian of Congress ruled that phones purchased after January of this year would no longer be exempted from the DMCA. The law gives the Librarian the authority to establish or eliminate exceptions — and we respect that process. But it is also worth noting the statement the Library of Congress released today on the broader public policy concerns of the issue. Clearly the White House and Library of Congress agree that the DMCA exception process is a rigid and imperfect fit for this telecommunications issue, and we want to ensure this particular challenge for mobile competition is solved.

So where do we go from here?

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.

We also believe the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with its responsibility for promoting mobile competition and innovation, has an important role to play here. FCC Chairman Genachowski today voiced his concern about mobile phone unlocking (.pdf), and to complement his efforts, NTIA will be formally engaging with the FCC as it addresses this urgent issue.

Finally, we would encourage mobile providers to consider what steps they as businesses can take to ensure that their customers can fully reap the benefits and features they expect when purchasing their devices.

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.

R. David Edelman is Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy

Let us know what you think of the response in the comments.

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  • Randy Marsh


  • Vipered

    So, same problem as always. Administration wants to make a change, congress stops it.

  • Apel P

    Sorry I’m in class and didn’t want to read it all. So legal again?

    • http://www.iphonehacks.com iPhoneHacks

      Nop, no change just few words of support to make it legal.

      • Apel P

        ok thanks

  • http://twitter.com/Thunderbolt294 Paul G

    A bunch of words and a lost answer.

    • http://www.iphonehacks.com iPhoneHacks

      Yeah, nothing radical being proposed. It still says you can unlock after you finish your contractual obligations. But what if I want to travel abroad and want my iPhone unlocked.

      • Bijomaru

        If you’re within a contract you can ask carrier to unlock for a fee. Which is understandable, as they still own the device until you’ve finished your contract. The issue here was illegality of unlocking on your own after your contract expired.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.kennard Steve Kennard

    What about USA military? I know lots of American servicemen who work at the nearby bases at Mildenhall and Lekenheath, why are they penalised ? surely they should have a right to have phone unlocked as a mater of course ?


    YES! TO OBAMA !!!


    10 more years FOR OBAMA THE GREAT !!

  • Mark

    Just like all Obama rhetoric… all sizzle, no steak.

  • http://www.cardlogix.com Smart Cards

    Things like this happen when EVERY Senator has 40+ lobbyist around them, and you best believe AT&T has a lobbyist assigned to every Senator.