Obama administration: It’s time to legalize cellphone unlocking

The following petition was made via the Obama administrations “We The People” website:

Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal.

The Librarian of Congress decided in October 2012 that unlocking of cell phones would be removed from the exceptions to the DMCA.

As of January 26, consumers will no longer be able unlock their phones for use on a different network without carrier permission, even after their contract has expired.

Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full.

The Librarian noted that carriers are offering more unlocked phones at present, but the great majority of phones sold are still locked.

We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal.

Having reached the 100,000 signature level, the petition merited an official response:

It’s Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking
By R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy

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.

Those interested can tell the Obama administration what they think about “We the People” and the response on cellphone unlocking here.


  1. Yeah, the bobble head Pres. caved in to public pressure more like.

    How are those petitions from the welfare hoes holding up Mr. Pres? You gonna give them more handouts funded by the taxpayer? Of course you are, you communist malcontent.

      1. He’s the E-Tainment “Preizy of the United Steizy”, which explains why America’s economy sucks right now… If I hear one more utterance from those Democratic morons that the economy has turned the corner… I may just join the NRA! These idiots from Obama, Biden on down said the economy has turned the corner so many times since 2010, I tend to agree. It’s gong around in a circle never getting anywhere!

        I bet there were more signatures to deport that Brit Twit from CNN Piers Morgan! What has the Obama administration been doing about that? You listening to the people Bamster?!

        1. The harsh fact is that the economy was improving until the republicans threw another million people out of work in their desperate attempts to hurt Obama. And all in the name of protecting tax loopholes for big oil. Shame on you all.
          And look at Europe which practiced the “severe austerity” thing from the beginning – officially in a double dip recession with unemployment in the mid teens to mid twenties percent range (excluding Greece and Portugal where it’s higher). So now you turds want the same thing for us?
          You lost the election – an election Romney said was a referendum on republican tax policy. L.O.S.T. Americans voted against it. Republicans lost seats in both houses and lost the presidential election.
          McConnell said in 2010 his top priority for the country was to make sure Obama didn’t get reelected. Apart from that fact that is treason, he failed. A man with any dignity and morals would resign. But he’s a republican so morals and dignity don’t enter the equation.

            1. If BLN is attempting to be a caricature, he needs to stay in character. He often will post sane stuff, then flip back into the persona, which of course infers schizophrenia, not one of Monkey Boy’s afflictions. Our hero ZuneTang® never broke character. I assume he posted as himself, whoever that masked man or woman really was, whenever he/she wanted to be serious.

  2. The administration supports unlocking cell phones. Congress, however, has to amend the DMCA laws. So tell your House reps and senators to fix it.

  3. They didn’t say squat. Note the passage:

    “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.”

    No s**t Sherlock. That’s what we have now. AT&T will unlock you phone if you are not bound by a service contract anyway. What about someone who travels overseas, during their contract?

    The whole unlocked phone thing needs to be separated from the service contract. I have no problem with someone being locked into a service contract for a predetermined time frame if they buy a subsidized phone. However, the phone should be theirs to do with as they please.

    1. No, we don’t have that now. You can approach ATT as a supplicant, begging them to allow you to have your phone unlocked, but they don’t HAVE to do it. Even if you own the phone outright. The question is, why should they get a vote, if you own the phone. Why did the Librarian of Congress think it was OK, up until Jan 26, but not after?

      But, the Librarian of Congress is not part of the Executive Branch. He works for John Boner. Like to guess how that’s going to turn out?

      I agree with you, phone financing needs to be unbundled from phone service, so that it’s clear how much of your bill is for service vs phone payments. That’ll open a lot of peoples eyes, especially those paying full price on out of contract phones.

  4. Just remember – even when Obama says agreeable things he’s still a politician. He might be a better than an average politician in some respects, but he’s still a politician through thick and thin. The only thing that motivates a real politician into action is when people put so much pressure on them that doing nothing is no longer a politically advantageous option. Don’t let the President’s agreeable words placate you – keep up the pressure until you force him into action.

    1. As mentioned before, the President’s staff can take any position but it’s the legislative branch’s (the House and Senate) job to create/amend laws. As mentioned before, if you want action, press your reps and senators on action you want— then hold them to it by following their voting record, which you can do all online.

  5. Now that Obama has come out in favor of unlocking, watch the Republican congress embrace keeping the phones locked. Bare witness as some Republican lawmakers who once thought it a great idea soon make a shift without actually being forced to renounce their previous position. For now it will suddenly become an unnecessary government regulation, further strangling private enterprise and killing jobs. It might have seemed like a reasonable, safe, middle of the road vote years ago, say when Bob Dole ran the party (coughObamacarecough), but those days are long gone. Obama giving it his stamp of approval ensures this to be yet another stepping stone towards the leftist utopia he’s fashioning through his series of moderate measures befitting an Eisenhower Republican, the bastard!

  6. More micro-management from the worst president in history! If you don’t feel like a victim, just wait! He’ll find something or someone for you to hate soon enough! Guaranteed!

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