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Senate committee approves mobile phone unlocking bill

The legislation would overturn a Library of Congress decision to remove legal protections for unlocking

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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to approve legislation that would allow mobile phone owners to unlock their devices for the purposes of switching carriers.

The committee, with a unanimous voice vote Thursday, approved an amended version of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act and sent the bill to the full Senate.

Consumer groups and other advocates have called on Congress to pass a mobile phone unlocking bill after a Library of Congress action in January 2013 removed legal protections for mobile phone unlocking. The library had previously allowed phone unlocking as an exception to the security circumvention provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

"Consumers should be able to use their existing cell phones when they move their service to a new wireless provider," committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement. "I hope the full Senate can soon take up this important legislation that supports consumer rights."

The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in February, although some advocates had withdrawn their support for that bill because of changes that they say weakened it.

Concerns over provisions in the House bill that would deny legal protections to so-called bulk unlockers, such as phone recyclers and resellers, held the bill up in the Senate, but that prohibition didn't make it into the amended Senate bill.

The amended Senate bill allows customers to authorize vendors to unlock their phones for them. The bill also instructs the Library of Congress to consider, in a DMCA rulemaking starting later this year, to consider whether other devices, such as tablets, should be eligible for unlocking.

CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, praised the Senate bill. CTIA appreciated the committee's "effort to strike an appropriate balance by authorizing unlocking without imposing obligations on carrier," the group said in a statement.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.



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