White House pledges to eliminate cellphone unlocking ban

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The White House has bowed to public opinion, and said that it too believes cellphone unlocking should be legal.

Following an online petition that garnered more than 114,000 signatures - and support from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - it describes the move as 'common sense', and says it should be extended to tablets too.

"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," says White House senior adviser for the internet, innovation and privacy R David Edelman in a statement on the petition website.

"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."

Phone unlocking has, in principle, been illegal since the end of January, after the Librarian of Congress decided it should no longer be expempted from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The White House's decision follows widespread opposition to the ban. Last year, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) concluded that "the primary purpose of the locks is to keep consumers bound to their existing networks, rather than to protect the rights of copyright owners in their capacity as copyright owners."

The Library of Congress has defended its decision, saying it really couldn't do anything else.

"The rulemaking is a technical, legal proceeding and involves a lengthy public process. It requires the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights to consider exemptions to the prohibitions on circumvention, based on a factual record developed by the proponents and other interested parties," it says in a statement.

"The officials must consider whether the evidence establishes a need for the exemption based on several statutory factors. It does not permit the US Copyright Office to create permanent exemptions to the law."

Now, the White House says it's considering several different avenues for eliminating the ban, including a legislative fix or joint action with the FCC.

"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," says Edelman.