A few months ago the Library of Congress decided to make the act of unlocking your mobile phone from it’s carrier illegal, anyone who did would be fined $2,500 and the person performing the unlocking could have been fined $500,000 with jail time. That law no longer applies thank’s to a We The People petition with over 114,000 signatures seeking reconsideration on the phone unocking law and a reply from The White House saying that they “believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties”.
Good news for Americans who want freedom from their carriers, bad news for carriers who for the past few months have been rubbing their hands together thinking they were getting customers for life (or at least until their contracts were up).
To make the victory even sweeter for the 114,000+ people who signed the petition, The White House decided to throw the unlocking of Tablets in there too:
“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.”
I think the American people owe a pat on the back to David Edelman, senior advisor for Internet, Innovation and Privacy who was responsible for replying to the petition. To read the full reply visit the petition page here.
A commenter by the name of ‘k’ left a comment asking: “Is it legal again? I thought we just won a reconsideration and that it was likely to go that way.” And my response to that was: “From what I can gather from the reply from the White House is that it’s not so much an illegal act any more, but at the same time there hasn’t been a definite “Unlocking your phone isn’t illegal any more.””
I’ve looked into the response from the White House a little more and this seems to be the end result:
So where do we go from here?
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.
We also believe the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with its responsibility for promoting mobile competition and innovation, has an important role to play here. FCC Chairman Genachowski today voiced his concern about mobile phone unlocking (.pdf), and to complement his efforts, NTIA will be formally engaging with the FCC as it addresses this urgent issue.
Finally, we would encourage mobile providers to consider what steps they as businesses can take to ensure that their customers can fully reap the benefits and features they expect when purchasing their devices.
So like I said to ‘k’ even though it’s being considered a legal act to unlock your phone, there hasn’t been a definite “Unlocking your phone is legal again” the best thing I would recommend if you’re planning to unlock your phone (US Citizens that is) is to contact your carrier and see what they have to say about the situation and whether they’ll offer to unlock your phone for you.