US House passes bill to make phone unlocking legal, but keeps “bulk unlocking” illegal

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill that makes cell phone unlocking legal on Tuesday, in response to a White House petition from a year ago.

From January last year, cell phone unlocking was in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), since the firmware of a phone is copyrighted, and altering it without permission is illegal. This bill would make phone unlocking legal again, so that customers can freely switch carriers.

From a release announcing the introduction of the bill:

“Everyone should be free to use their personal property as they see fit and choose their preferred technologies without penalty,” said Rep. Massie. “This bill rolls back excessive and out-dated prohibitions on otherwise lawful innovations that promote marketplace competition.

There’s however a controversial clause in the bill that prevents “bulk unlocking,” that is unlocking phones for bulk resale. This is to prevent the rise of companies who purchase second-hand phones for cheap prices, unlock them and sell them at much higher rates to buyers. But iFixit says that this clause will encourage recyclers to shred phones rather than resell them, resulting in the generation of a lot of e-waste. Another short coming of the bill is that it applies only to smartphones, not tablets or other wireless devices.

The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration there.

Let us know what you think about the bill in the comments below.

[via Reuters]