In late January, unlocking your cellphone technically became illegal
after the Librarian of Congress removed it from the DMCA exception list last year. It remains legal for you to jailbreak your phone, but you can't unlock it unless you get your carrier's permission. If you think that sounds idiotic you're not alone; a petition was formed on the White House website
aimed at making unlocking cell phones legal again, and after getting the necessary 100,000 signatures has now received a White House response
In the response, the White House argues they agree that users should have the legal right to unlock the tablets and smartphones they pay a pretty penny for. They also argue that the current DMCA exemption process is a "rigid and imperfect fit" for this particular issue (many argue it's a rigid and imperfect fit for all issues). They then proceed to offer a three-pronged possible solution that isn't much of a solution.
One, the White House argues they could apply a "narrow legislative fix" that would ensure cell phone unlocking stays legal. Two, they could wait for the FCC to do something despite the fact the FCC probably doesn't have authority over this issue
. Three, they want to ask carriers 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."
In other words, the White House's solution is to wait for a bickering, gridlocked, and industry-beholden Congress to stand up to carrier lobbyists and fix the law (good luck), wait for a timid FCC boss with dubious jurisdiction here to do....something (good luck), and ask giant duopolists to pretty please be nice (good luck). After effectively punting the issue down the road, the White House then gives consumers a healthy dose of the blah blah blah:
We look forward to continuing to work with Congress, the wireless and mobile phone industries, and most importantly you -- the everyday consumers who stand to benefit from this greater flexibility -- to ensure our laws keep pace with changing technology, protect the economic competitiveness that has led to such innovation in this space, and offer consumers the flexibility and freedoms they deserve.
Sure, the White House's options are limited, but more could be accomplished if the administration seriously supported copyright enforcement and DMCA reform in the first place. They don't (feel free to ask any of the many former RIAA or MPAA employees on staff), and as a result fixing the DMCA exemption process or copyright on any broader scale gets left unmentioned. While getting the White House to acknowledge the issue is a small win for fans of tech, there's still a very long way to go before sanity prevails.