As of January 26, it is illegal for U.S. mobile phone users to unlock newly purchased cell phones without express permission from their cell phone carriers. Cell phone unlocking used to be possible as part of an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), but the exception ended following a ruling by the Library of Congress’s Copyright Office in October of 2012.
Sina Khanifar, co-founder of OpenSignal, is protesting the new law with a whitehouse.gov petition calling for the decision to be rescinded. In 2004, Khanifar started Cell-Unlock.com, a business centered around unlocking mobile phones.
The site led to a cease and desist letter from Motorola, which was successfully nullified by the founder of Stanford’s Cyberlaw Clinic, Jennifer Granick, who went on to lobby for the now-defunct DMCA exemption for unlocking phones.
As Khanifar mentions in his petition, the loss of the exemption hinders mobile phone users who wish to unlock their phones for use abroad and it also devalues the devices.
Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full.
The Libraran noted that carriers are offering more unlocked phones at present, but the great majority of phones sold are still locked.
Khanifar needs approximately 13,000 additional signatures on his petition, which ends on February 23, to receive a formal White House response. The White House has a policy of issuing a response to petitions that garner at least 100,000 signatures. The signatures do not guarantee a reversal of the policy, but they will ensure that the issue is officially addressed.
Though cell phone unlocking is now illegal on an individual basis for phones purchased after January 26, 2013, users are still able to have phones unlocked through carriers. Unlocked cell phones can also be purchased from carriers at unsubsidized prices.