Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Obama's Stance on Unlocking Cell Phones Comes With a Very Big Catch Obama's Stance on Unlocking Cell Phones Comes With a Very Big Catch

This ad will end in seconds
 
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation
 

 

Tech

Obama's Stance on Unlocking Cell Phones Comes With a Very Big Catch

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

photo of Brian Fung
March 4, 2013

Cell-phone users, rejoice: The White House has agreed that you should be able to unlock your phone and bring it with you to another carrier “without risking criminal or other penalties.”

The statement is a big deal, if only because it seems to align the White House with consumers against the Library of Congress. It was the LOC that allowed a legal shield to expire at the end of January for people who unlocked their phones themselves, exposing them to lawsuits from wireless carriers for circumventing copyright laws.

Here’s the money quote from Monday's White House 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.

The statement goes on to make clear that the administration supports congressional action that would eliminate barriers to provider-jumping. But buried in the quote above and elsewhere in the response is an important caveat that risks getting overlooked in all of Monday’s excitement: The White House only supports unlocking when consumers have fulfilled their contractual obligations. It’s silent on whether it supports a consumer’s decision to unlock their phone in the middle of their contract.

This omission doesn’t help the petitioners, whose campaign is predicated on consumers being legally justified in unlocking a phone whenever they want — not just when they've reached the end of their contract. In fact, according to Amy Storey, a spokeswoman for the wireless industry, carriers are perfectly willing to sell you a phone on contract that comes unlocked. They’re also willing to let you unlock your phone without breaking your agreement. So while the statement expresses solidarity with the petitioners, it also echoes many of the points industry has been making. 

Of course, unlocking your cell phone under any circumstance is still currently a no-no, and getting the legal shield back in place remains the petitioners' most immediate priority. Derek Khanna, one of the leading petitioners, said he couldn't comment on the apparent alignment between the White House's stance and the wireless industry's until he'd had more time to look through the response. Nevertheless, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration is trying to walk a policy tightrope.

LIKE THIS STORY? Sign up for Tech Edge

Sign up for our daily newsletter and stay on top of tech coverage.

Sign up form for Tech Edge
Job Board
Search Jobs
Transportation Planner
American Society of Civil Engineers | Salinas, CA
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
Fire Sprinkler Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Charlotte, NC
Deputy Director of Transit Operations
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Jose, CA
Structural Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | New Haven, CT
Assessment and Remediation Team Lead
American Society of Civil Engineers | Regina, SK
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Assistant Professor - Water Resources/Ecological Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Auburn, AL
Quality Systems Manager
American Society of Civil Engineers | Greensboro, NC
Rail Field Construction Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Jacksonville, FL
Manager, Quality Assurance
American Society of Civil Engineers | Memphis, TN
Sr. Controls Systems Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Grand Island, NE
Quality Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Attica, IN
Civil Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Steamboat Springs, CO
Commissioning Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Chicago, IL
 
Comments
comments powered by Disqus