White House Says Mobile Phone Unlocking Should Be Legal
from the so-now-what dept
Well, that was amazingly fast. The White House has already responded to the petition concerning unlocking mobile phones, and said that mobile phone unlocking should be legal. If you don’t remember, the Librarian of Congress (who technically is a part of the executive branch, working for the President) decided to remove the DMCA exemption for mobile phone unlocking, turning it into a possible copyright infringement risk. There was plenty of outrage, which led to a White House petition getting the necessary 100,000 votes.
The White House has quickly sided with the petitioners:
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 response also points to the initial filing done by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which had actually filed in support of keeping the exemption for mobile phone unlocking during the triennial review process. Unfortunately, the Librarian of Congress decided not to follow that recommendation.
So, now what? The White House seems open to having Congress fix the problem, but also seems to think that the FCC may be able to fix it as well, which is probably why the FCC started claiming it would investigate the situation last week.
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.
This is definitely a victory for those of us who are against the overreach on copyright, though there is still a ways to go. We haven’t actually seen the problem get fixed yet, just that the White House is supporting fixing the issue.
Separately, it’s a bit disappointing that the White House focused on narrowly targeting just this particular problem, rather than recognizing that this is just a symptom of the broken DMCA anti-circumvention setup. A truly bold statement would have been to go even further and recognize that the law itself is broken. Passing a “narrow legislative fix in the telecommunications space” just duct tapes on a way to attack this particular symptom of the broken system, but does nothing to attack the disease at the root of it.
Derek Khanna, who helped lead the charge on this petition and has rallied support behind this issue, says that this is a success that should be celebrated. In a statement to Techdirt, he noted:
This is terrific news. It shows the power of the people to affirmatively act to fix policy rather than just stop bad policy. We the people have this power when we come together to fight for positive, common-sense solutions. This is a major affirmative victory for the digital generation that stood up against censorship of the internet through SOPA a year ago. The work of this movement is not done, now Congress must follow through — and it will require continued activism and engagement from average people who made this possible.
A free society should not require its citizens to petition their government every three years to allow access to technologies that are ordinary and commonplace. Innovation cannot depend upon a permission-based rulemakings requiring approval every three years from an unelected bureaucrat. A free society should not ban technologies unless there is a truly overwhelming and compelling governmental interest
I agree that this is a “narrow” victory, but again I worry about the White House just looking to duct tape up a solution to this one issue, rather than looking at what caused this problem in the first place.