When we reported the news that unlocking cell phones became illegal in the United States, there was some head-scratching and disbelief that such a law could have been passed. But, in fact, it was and it sparked a little protest over the Internet and a petition was started to encourage the White House to do something about it. There was a lot of confusion over just what was changed - if anything - to prevent people from unlocking their cell phones legally. Our own Alexander Maxham did a great write-up on it here but, essentially the Librarian of Congress, in October of 2012, decided that unlocking cell phones would no longer be allowed under the DMCA. There was a 90-day exception period, which expired towards the end of January. The petition had to get 100,000 signatures before the White House would consider anything.
The petition garnered 114,322 signatures in all and now, the White House has issued a statement, that essentially agrees with the petition. R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation and Privacy writes:
"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,"
So, that's a nod to agreeing with the people, which is one thing but just what is going to be done about the whole thing? Well, there isn't going to be anything concrete outlined at this stage obviously, but it looks like there could be change on its way:
"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."
It's interesting to note here that the White House is of course, open to users unlocking their cell phones when they're no longer bound by a contract agreement. In this world of 24-month contracts and a new model every year, this probably doesn't help many of you out there. Having said that, second-hand phones are still popular and if it still has some value at the end of your contract then you can now go ahead and unlock it.
Overall, this isn't going to make much of a difference to the whole situation, as many carriers would allow you to unlock your phone for either a period of time when you're headed abroad or when you reached the end of your contract. It's good to see Big Government respond like this, and the option to unlock a device outside of a contract agreement is a no-brainer when you think about it.