Commentary

Senators Unveil Cell Phone Unlocking Bill

Consumers could soon regain the right to unlock their phones, two lawmakers said on Monday.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said they had reached an agreement on legislation to make clear that consumers can use their cell phones with their choice of wireless carriers.

The House passed legislation to that effect earlier this year, but that bill wouldn't have allowed "bulk unlocking" by companies that unlock phones as part of a business. The Senate Judiciary Committee's version of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, unveiled today, doesn't have language prohibiting bulk unlocking.

Until January of 2013 consumers were allowed to unlock their wireless devices -- even though doing so involved circumventing digital rights management software. Thwarting that type of software potentially is a crime, but every three years the Copyright Office comes out with exceptions to the anti-circumvention rules.

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Until recently the Copyright Office made such an exception for cell phone unlocking. But in October of 2012, the Copyright Office changed course, effectively subjecting people who unlock phones to the threat of criminal prosecution.

The Copyright Office's decision spurred a wave of criticism by consumers, advocates, and even the White House, which said last year that it supported changing the law.

The digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge cheered today's news of the Senate bill. The group has long questioned why a law aimed at protecting artists' copyright should be used to prohibit cell phone unlocking -- activity that in no way relates to piracy.

"Senators Leahy and Grassley's revised phone unlocking bill is important reform that responds to hundreds of thousands of Americans who called for the restoration of their right to unlock phones that they legally own,” Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. “Public Knowledge supports the revised bill and encourages the Senate to pass it quickly.”

1 comment about "Senators Unveil Cell Phone Unlocking Bill".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, June 24, 2014 at 5:47 a.m.

    Re: "the restoration of their right to unlock phones that they legally own". Not really. This issue arose because they DON'T legally own their phones - as the most important part is the software which is licensed, not sold.

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