White House Responds To Cellphone Unlocking Ban Petition

The Obama administration has officially responded to a petition requesting the government make cellphone unlocking legal again in the United States.

For supporters of the petition, the reply was positive; the administration relayed that it fully supports an individual's right to unlock his or her cell phone or tablet, so long as it's not bound by a service agreement with a carrier.

"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," wrote the administration's R. David Edelman. "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."

We reached out to Sina Khanifar, the petition's starter, for his reaction to the White House's response.

"This is a big victory for consumers, and I'm glad to have played a part in it," Khanifar said. "A lot of people reacted skeptically when I originally started the petition, with lots of comments to the effect of 'petitions don't do anything.'  The optimist in me is really glad to have proved them wrong. The White House just showed that they really do listen, and that they're willing to take action."

"As the White House said in the response, keeping unlocking legal is really 'common sense,' and I'm excited to see them recognizing this."

The administration said it would support a number of ways to address the issue, including urging carriers to protect consumer rights and backing legislation explicitly stating that "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."

The White House also pointed to the Federal Communications Commission's role in the process. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently revealed there will be an investigation into the matter, and he agreed with the administration's support for unlocking rights.

Khanifar's involvement in the matter will continue, too, even after today. In a phone call with the White House, he suggested tinkering with problematic section of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that spurred this whole situation.

"I think the real culprit here is Section 1201 of the DMCA, the controversial 'anti-circumvention provision.' I discussed with the White House the potential of pushing to have that provision amended or removed, and they want to continue that conversation," said Khanifar. "I'll have exciting news on the campaign to make this happen tomorrow."

(Edited by Lois Heyman)

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