Cell Phone Unlocking Petition Gets 100K Signatures - White House Must Respond

By Alexandra Burlacu email: a.burlacu@mobilenapps.com | Feb 23, 2013 05:29 PM EST

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A petition asking the White House to reverse its ruling on unlocking devices got more than 100,000 signatures, which means an official response is now necessary.

The minimum number of signatures for the White House to acknowledge a petition is 100,000, and this particular petition met its goal. This means that now the White House has to address requests to reverse the fact that it is now illegal to unlock a mobile phone, even if one is no longer under contract with a wireless carrier.

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A ruling (PDF) on Oct. 26, 2012 by the Library of Congress went into effect on Jan. 26, 2013, making it illegal to unlock a locked device.

"No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title," states the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act on which this ruling was based.

Consequently, consumers can currently use a clocked device only on the wireless network of the carrier that sold it, regardless of whether they are still under contract or not.

"Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls when traveling abroad," explains the petition. "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full."

The petition further notes that while more unlocked phones are now available for sale, the "great majority" of handsets on sale are still locked to the carrier that subsidized it.

According to Thompson Reuters, San Francisco-based entrepreneur Sina Khanifar is the author behind this petition. Khanifar reportedly launched the petition after risking legal action from Motorola for launching an unlocking tool in 2004.

Despite the ruling, however, legally unlocking a phone is not impossible. AT&T, for instance, will provide codes so customers whose contracts have expired can unlock their devices legally. All clients need to do is ask.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile has its own policy for unlocking phones. Upon request, customers can unlock their phones after 90 days of service. The policies of Verizon Wireless and Sprint, on the other hand, are more confusing.

Fines for illegally unlocking a phone can range from $2,500 to potential prosecution for up to $500,000 and five years' jail time. The petition aims to tear down this ruling and allow consumers to use the phone they paid for on any carrier's network.

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