White House: Cellphone unlocking should be legalized, tablets should be unlockable too

Alex Wagner
Editorial Director of News and Content from  Omaha, NE
| March 4, 2013

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Just a couple of weeks after a White House petition asking that the unlocking cellphones be legalized earned over 100,000 signatures, the Obama administration has shared its stance on the matter. R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, and Privacy, wrote today that the White House agrees that consumers should be able to unlock their phones without penalty and that consumers should be able to use their device on another network so long as it isn't bound by a service agreement. Edelmen also said that tablets should be unlockable as they include cellular functionality and continue to become increasingly similar to phones.

So what does the White House plan to do? The official response explains that the Obama administration would support several different methods of addressing the situation. That includes "narrow legislative fixes" that clearly state that a consumer should be able to switch carriers whenever he or she chooses, so long as that person isn't involved in a service agreement. The White House also points out that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski formally shared his concerns (PDF link) about the DMCA exemption on unlocking after first touching on the issue last week. The FCC and the NTIA will be working together on this matter. Finally, the White House suggests that phone providers examine the ways in which their users can take advantage of the features of their devices.

All of this hubbub stems from a decision by the Librarian of Congress to remove an exemption from the DMCA that allowed consumers to unlock their own phones, making the process technically illegal unless the user gained permission to unlock from their carrier. The fact that this petition received overwhelming support from the White House is sure to please its backers, and it's good to hear that the Obama administration supports the unlocking of tablets as well. Of course, it's worth noting that no policies have changed quite yet, so it's still not quite legal to unlock your mobile device without operator consent. Here's to hoping that the White House's strong support and the FCC and NTIA are investigating the matter, we'll see a resolution reached soon.

Via Petitions.WhiteHouse.Gov, FCC (PDF)