Follow Us

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

US House passes bill allowing mobile phone unlocking

Some former supporters criticize the bill's prohibition on bulk unlocking

Article comments

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow mobile phone users to unlock their devices and switch carriers, overriding a 2013 decision by the Library of Congress to make the practice illegal.

The House passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act by a vote of 295-114 late Tuesday, despite some former supporters voicing opposition to the bill in recent days.

After the bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee, sponsors added language that would allow a prohibition on bulk unlocking of phones to remain in effect. Critics of the added language said it weakened the consumer protections in the bill and would prohibit a legitimate business model of reselling used phones.

The bill was already a "weak" one before the added language, said Sina Khanifar, an activist and former phone unlocker who campaigned for Congress to overturn the Library of Congress' decision to prohibit unlocking. In January 2013, the Library of Congress, reviewing circumvention exceptions allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), allowed a legal exemption for unlocking a mobile phone to expire.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice Act didn't permanently amend the DMCA to allow mobile phone unlocking, unlike some other proposals, but will allow the Library of Congress to again review the issue in 18 months, Khanifar wrote in a blog post.

The new language, excluding bulk unlocking from the legal exemption, further weakened the bill, he added. "Bulk unlockers buy phones from a variety of sources, including second-hand devices, unlock and resell them," he wrote. "They're an important part of the electronics recycling and refurbishing industry."

The bulk unlocking provision "sets a very dangerous precedent. It says that Congress is okay with companies using ... the DMCA to prevent certain business models, even when they have absolutely nothing to do with copyright infringement," he added.

Still, the bill had support from several groups including mobile phone trade group CTIA, Consumers Union and the Fraternal Order of Police, noted Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican and the bill's main sponsor. The bulk unlocking provision was added to address police concerns about stolen mobile phones, a House staffer said.

The bill "protects consumer choice by allowing consumers flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless carrier," he said in a statement. "This is something that Americans have been asking for and I am pleased that the House of Representatives acted to restore the exemption that will allow consumers to unlock their cell phones."

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, said it was disappointed in the new language on bulk unlocking. "It's clear that more needs to be done to prevent copyright law from interfering with consumers' rights and picking winners and losers between business models," Sherwin Siy, the group's vice president of legal affairs, said by email.

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.



Share:

More from Techworld

More relevant IT news

Comments



Send to a friend

Email this article to a friend or colleague:

PLEASE NOTE: Your name is used only to let the recipient know who sent the story, and in case of transmission error. Both your name and the recipient's name and address will not be used for any other purpose.

Techworld White Papers

Choose – and Choose Wisely – the Right MSP for Your SMB

End users need a technology partner that provides transparency, enables productivity, delivers...

Download Whitepaper

10 Effective Habits of Indispensable IT Departments

It’s no secret that responsibilities are growing while budgets continue to shrink. Download this...

Download Whitepaper

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Information Archiving

Enterprise information archiving is contributing to organisational needs for e-discovery and...

Download Whitepaper

Advancing the state of virtualised backups

Dell Software’s vRanger is a veteran of the virtualisation specific backup market. It was the...

Download Whitepaper

Techworld UK - Technology - Business

Innovation, productivity, agility and profit

Watch this on demand webinar which explores IT innovation, managed print services and business agility.

Techworld Mobile Site

Access Techworld's content on the move

Get the latest news, product reviews and downloads on your mobile device with Techworld's mobile site.

Find out more...

From Wow to How : Making mobile and cloud work for you

On demand Biztech Briefing - Learn how to effectively deliver mobile work styles and cloud services together.

Watch now...

Site Map

* *