The petition asking President Obama to oppose a new rule restricting cell phone owners from unlocking their devices has passed the 100,000 signatures needed, meaning the White House now must respond.
The petition, that now has more than 102,000 signatures, protests a regulation from the Library of Congress that prohibits unlocking phones without the carrier’s permission — even when a customer’s contract with the carrier has expired.
CTIA general counsel Michael Altschul wrote in a blog post It “makes our streets just a little bit safer by making it harder for large-scale phone trafficking operations to operate in the open and purchase large quantities of phones, unlock them, and resell them in foreign markets”.
The petition is partly symbolic: The Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office are part of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, meaning that Obama cannot overturn the decision even if he disagreed with it.
Congress has the power to rewrite the law, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which hands the Library of Congress the effective power to regulate certain gadgets in the name of copyright law. And a nudge from the administration would speed up any DMCA legislative fixes. Under the DMCA, Americans are broadly prohibited from “circumventing” copyright-related technologies, with criminal penalties targeting people who profit from doing it. But the DMCA gives the Library of Congress the authority to grant exemptions, which it did for cell phone unlocking utilities in 2006 and 2010.
The Library of Congress reversed their position last fall, after lobbying from CTIA, which represents carriers including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel. It ruled (PDF) the exemption was no longer necessary because there are no “adverse effects” relating to locked phones, and unlocked phones are now readily available.
The Library of Congress’ regulatory turn around doesn’t affect jail breaking or rooting mobile phones, which is currently permitted through at least 2015.