Americans Are One Signature Away From Legally Unlocking Cell Phones

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The House has unanimously voted to legalize the unlocking of cellphones so they can be used on other networks Friday.

It may seem like common sense to have phones automatically switch carriers or use new carriers when abroad, but a controversial line in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act had made it illegal in 1998 to unlock a cell phone to switch service providers. Though unlocking was made legal between 2006 and 2012—the U.S. Librarian of Congress had granted an exemption—the action became illegal again in 2013 when the exemption was not renewed.

After 19 months of petitioning President Barack Obama (amounting to more than 114,000 signatures) and pushing the bill, the House agreed to fix the legislation.

"This is something that Americans have been asking for and I am pleased that we were able to work together to ensure the swift passage of legislation restoring the exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their phones," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement.

Indeed, consumers have been clamoring for the change, and White House petition creator and founder of FixtheDCMA Sina Khanifar is pleased with the move, telling The Washington Post:

It's been really heartening to learn that if you care enough about a particular issue, you can have a real impact on the law. Though it was pretty frustrating at times, a combination of citizen advocacy and online activism seems to have had a real, tangible impact.

The fact that public advocacy organizations have to make a fresh case for an unlocking exemption every three years is a perfect example of why the underlying copyright law, Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is in dire need of an update.

The bill will next reach President Obama, who is expected to sign. If passed, the fix will last until the librarian of Congress's next rulemaking session in 2015. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.