I was part of a movement that protested the egregious law against unlocking phones. The Obama administration sided with us. It can do more to protect property rights in the digital age.
On January 26 this year, the Librarian of Congress declared that unlocking a cell phone to make it available on other carriers was illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.
The ruling was flawed in three major ways. First, it violated the property rights of phone owners (it is, after all, your phone, and you should do what you want with it). Second, it protected the interest and profits of a handful of large telecom companies over smaller competitors. Third, it created higher barriers to entry for new telecom companies, which could lead to less innovation.
Entrepreneur Sina Khanifar and I have advocated in The Atlantic and across the Web that this absurd ruling must be overturned, sparking a White House petition, written by Sina, to legalize unlocking. On February 21, 2013, we hit the 100,000-signature threshold to force the White House to provide a formal response.
Today, the White House came out in favor of cellphone unlocking:
"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. This is particularly important for secondhand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets your needs -- even if it isn't the one on which the device was first activated. All consumers deserve that flexibility."
The White House says it will support narrow legislative fixes to solve this problem, but this is merely an interim step. A more permanent solution could ensure consumer rights, protect small businesses, and foster innovation.