by Chris Smith, 4 months ago
A few days ago we told you that starting January 26, 2013, you won’t be able to unlock your smartphone from the shackles of your carrier, at least not legally, but we also showed you…
I almost thought we'd never make it. After almost 30 days, the White House petition to lift the ban on mobile unlocking has reached — and surpassed — its 100,000 signature goal. This means government will be compelled to at least make an official response to consumers' requests to make mobile unlocking legal. Now whether the White House does agree with us, we would have to wait. But at least we have made our voices heard through this “We the People” initiative.
In fact the petition is now at 101,106 and the number of signatures seems to be growing at a faster rate now that it has breached the minimum.
As a brief backgrounder, recall that mobile phone unlocking has been rendered illegal by the Librarian of Congress as a violation agains the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. This particular issue is set for review once every three years, and until January 2013, unlocking your phone's network-lock was actually allowed by law. But after January 26th, unlocking is already a violation of the DMCA. While I have argued before that networks are not likely to prosecute everyone who unlocks their phone, this might make software unlocking tools a bit more difficult to access given that they are now illegal.
Sina Khanifar, who initiated the petition last January, got in touch with us earlier today to share that a few big names (and no-names) have signified their support for the petition. These include hacking collective Anonymous, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a few members of the U.S. House of Representatives, among others.
As to Sina's motivation behind this petition, we earlier shared that he had once been laid a lawsuit for developing unlocking tools, but he still feels that consumers should have the right to switch networks. He stresses how the principles of unlocking are aligned with the open nature of Android.
As a tinkerer myself, I think its pretty unreasonable that the legality of unlocking, rooting, or jailbreaking your phone gets decided every three years by the Librarian of Congress. I think the fair use doctrine should apply — once you've bought something, you should be free to do as you want with it. To fix that, the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions need to be fixed, but the film and music industries will likely lobby heavily against any changes. Thats why I started the petition: to show the White House and politicians that people really do care about this kind of thing.
What's next? The White House will now have to make an official response to the matter. Now we're hoping it's positive, and not a boilerplate “no” answer, since this is a consumer-rights related matter after all, and not an expensive $852 quadrillion Death Star project that could easily be shot down by a one-man starship.