The Obama administration has voiced its support for a campaign to strike down a law that makes unlocking a cellphone punishable by fines and jail time.
The executive branch of the U.S. federal government has cast its lot with entrepreneur Sina Khanifar and the 114,000 who signed Khanifar's petition legalizing the unlocking of cellphones.
In a response to the petition—which Khanifar started along with former Republican staffer Derek Khanna—White House adviser David Edelman posted a statement declaring that the White House agrees that consumers should be able to unlock their cellphones without risking criminal or other penalties. Edelman said the White House also believes the same principal should apply to tablets.
Khanifar started the petition in January with the goal of reversing a decision by the Librarian of Congress that the unlocking of cell phones would be removed from the exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It is currently illegal to unlock a cellphone purchased after Jan. 26. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Edelman said the Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space. The Obama Administration also believes that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also has an important role to play in legalizing the unlocking of cellphones, Edelman wrote. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Monday (March 4) circulated comments on his concern about mobile phone unlocking.
Edelman also said the White House would urge mobile providers to "consider what steps they as businesses can take to ensure that their customers can fully reap the benefits and features they expect when purchasing their devices."
"This is a big victory for consumers, and I'm glad to have played a part in it," Khanifar said in an emailed statement.
Khanifar said a lot of people were skeptical when he originally started the petition, with many saying petitions don't get results. "The optimist in me is really glad to have proved them wrong," Khanifar said. "The White House just showed that they really do listen, and that they're willing to take action."
Khanifar said the "real culprit" is Section 1201 of the DMCA. He said he discussed with Edelman the potential of a push to have that provision amended or removed and said the White House wants to continue the discussion. Khanifar pledged to immediately start work on a campaign to support the revision or removal of this provision.