White House Forced To Address Unlocking Laws

An independent petition has gathered the 100,000 signatures required for a White House response on a change of policy over the current illegality of unlocking phones.

The news follows separate campaigns this week by at least two separate communities, YourAnonNews (the largest anonymous Twitter account, with 900,000 followers) and Reddit.

The NextWeb reports that whereas the first 80,000 e-signatures were culled over the first 26 days of the petition's ratification, the final 20,000 were taken in just two days.

The petition was submitted to the White House's We the People petition site on Jan. 24, 2013, in response to the Library of Congress' October 2012 decision to remove the unlocking of cell phones from exceptions to the DMCA. The decision made the unlocking of one's cell phone illegal as of January 2013.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1986 is a copyright law that permits criminal punishment for any distribution of services that may allow for illegal access to be made to copyrighted materials. More directly related to the phone unlocking case, the DMCA also makes it illegal for anyone to circumvent access control itself.

In this case, that applies to the ability to open access to one's cell phone in a manner not originally intended by the manufacturer.

With the petition having met its 100,000-signatures goal before its deadline of Saturday, Feb. 23, petition signers are hoping this will lead the White House to not only make an announcement about their plea, but also to consider making unlocking one's phone legal.

"Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad," responded petition creator Sina Khanifar to the Copyright Office's decision of criminalizing the unlocking of cell phones. "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full," continued Khanifar.

In 2005, Khanifar was sued by Motorola for disseminating software that unlocked their phones.

"I started unlocking phones after a typical entrepreneurial experience: I had a problem and was forced to find a solution," explained Khanifar through his blog on Feb. 3, 2013. "I'd brought a cell phone from California to use while at college in the UK, but quickly discovered that it wouldn't work with any British cell networks. The phone was locked. Strapped for cash and unable to pay for a new phone, I figured out how to change the Motorola firmware to unlock the device."

Khanifar worked with Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center (where she's also taught on the subjects of cyberlaw, computer crime law, Internet intermediary liability and Internet law and policy), to get the DMCA to make an exemption for unlocking phones, which it did in November 2006.

Six years later, the exemption was revoked and now Khanifar is fighting once again.

President Barack Obama's administration first initiated its petition policy in September 2011, saying that any petition with 5,000 signatures would receive an official response from the White House.

The threshold was raised to 25,000 in 2012 and in January 2013 was raised again four-fold in order to dissuade inappropriate petitions, including the notorious request by some for the U.S. government to construct its own Death Star.

An official response from the White House does not guarantee in any way that a change will be made in the current criminalization of unlocking phones.

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