White House responds to 'Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal' petition


Explaining and understanding Article 2 of the US Constitution is no easy task.


Win McNamee

The Obama administration on Monday responded positively to a thousands-strong petition to the White House calling for the unlocking of cell phones to be made legal. 

"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," replied R. David Edelman, Obama's top advisor for internet innovation and privacy, on the White House website. "In fact," he added, "we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones." The White House is working on the issue, according to Edelman

The original petition, entitled "Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal." -- complete with a period -- was created January 24, 2013 and has 114,322 signatories as of this writing. 

In it, petitioners demand that the Librarian of Congress change recent regulations regarding unlocked phones or advance a bill that would definitively decriminalize the unlocking of cell phones.

Referring to a four-month-old Librarian decision that tied the unlocking their cell phones to permission from cell providers on copyright grounds, petitioners say consumers are now "forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad," slamming the new rule as one that "reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full."

The White House agreed that the Librarian provision is a "rigid and imperfect fit for this telecommunications issue" but deferred to an explanatory Monday note from the agency that acknowledged a need for additional "review and resolution."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), meanwhile, weighed in Monday with a more critical statement. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the Librarian decision "doesn't pass the common sense test" and promised to look into the matter. 

All in all, not bad for a weeks-old White House petition.