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Cellphones Government Your Rights Online

White House Petition To Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal Needs 11,000 Signatures 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the freedom-of-technology dept.
On January 26th, unlocking a cell phone that is under contract became illegal in the U.S. Just before that went into effect, a petition was started at whitehouse.gov to have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision. "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full. The Librarian noted that carriers are offering more unlocked phones at present, but the great majority of phones sold are still locked." The 30 days time limit on the petition is almost up, and it's about 11,000 signatures shy of the amount necessary to ensure a response from the Obama administration (100,000 total, recently increased from 25,000). The creator of the petition received a Cease & Desist letter from Motorola in 2005 for selling software that would allow users to unlock their phones, and he thinks it's only a matter of time before such legal threats begin again. This is part of a larger battle to protect the way consumers can use their devices. While it's still legal for people to root their phones, the Librarian of Congress failed to expand that legal protection to tablets, even though the devices are incredibly similar. The Librarian's decision (PDF) needs further review, and if the White House petition doesn't get enough signatures by February 23, such a review may not happen.
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White House Petition To Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal Needs 11,000 Signatures

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  • Will generate a flood of clicks... but will people actually create logins and sign the petition?
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:32PM (#42960005) Homepage Journal

    "...have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision" != "Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal"

    That is all.

    • Re:False Equivalence (Score:5, Informative)

      by Clomer (644284) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:41PM (#42960119)

      "...have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision" != "Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal"

      That is all.

      The summary is poor. The petition itself actually states "We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal."

      • "...have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision" != "Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal"

        That is all.

        The summary is poor. The petition itself actually states "We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal."

        Still.

        It's my experience that "ask" does not get you too far when it comes to bureaucrats. "We demand that the White House demand the Librarian of Congress to..." would, IMO, be far more effective; especially if you throw in something about First Amendment grounds.

        • "...have the Librarian of Congress revisit that decision" != "Make Cell Phone Unlocking Legal"

          That is all.

          The summary is poor. The petition itself actually states "We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal."

          ... "We demand that the White House demand the Librarian of Congress to..." would, IMO, be far more effective; ....

          It would not be more effective, since the White House has only ever pledged to respond to petitions that reach the threshold, not to take any action whatsoever. The petitions are not binding in any way. The WH raised the threshold for comment only because once the site became popular, it was trivially easy to reach that number for stupid things, and the WH didn't want to have to comment on stupid things.

          • by Mitreya (579078)

            The WH raised the threshold for comment only because once the site became popular, it was trivially easy to reach that number for stupid things, and the WH didn't want to have to comment on stupid things.

            I do not see why raise the threshold -- they do not even always respond to your petition. Sometimes it is just a random response. The petition to "Abolish TSA" could have gotten a response "We feel your pain, but TSA is too important" or "We hear you, but we don't think TSA is so bad".

            Instead, the answer was "TSA is awesome and has big plans for next 10 years" without as much as referencing the petition text in a meaningfulness way. How much work is it to copy-paste a response from somewhere?

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          "We demand that the White House demand the Librarian of Congress to..." would, IMO, be far more effective; especially if you throw in something about First Amendment grounds.

          Given that this petition system does nothing to force anyone to do anything but "respond", and given that past "responses" have been along the lines of the one from TSA regarding a petition to disband TSA ("TSA is great, we're doing great, thanks for asking, have a nice day."), you can 'demand' all you want, but you'll still get a nonresponsive response. You can even toss in a reference to eight of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights and you won't improve the odds.

          • "this many people promise to vote your sorry ass out of office at the next election."

            that might get some attention.

            then again, I still doubt it.

            its not 11k signatures that are needed, its 11 million dollars given to the power brokers in washington.

            lets be honest here. this is about money, not freedom.

            • 100,000 votes spread across 50 states? Half of whom (statistically) werent voting for you anyways, and half of the remainder who will vote for you no matter what you do?

              Yea, Im sure that will make a huge difference.

        • Right, because it was the "bureaucrats" who made this decision, not the politicians.

          And, of course, a demand from 0.0003% of the population will cause them to spring into action to meet your demands...

  • Don't care (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:32PM (#42960007)

    It's my phone, I paid for it and I honestly don't give two shits if some asshole in congress thinks I can't do what I want with something I own. Go ahead, make it illegal, fill up the jails and prisons just a little bit more. My guess is that a small handful of people might get into trouble over this, but the vast majority of us will do what we want WITH OUR OWN PROPERTY.

    • Re:Don't care (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nerdfest (867930) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:48PM (#42960213)

      Better still, make *locking* phones illegal. It's anti-competitive and should have been outlawed right from the start.

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Exactly..
        Locking phones is immoral and their claimed reasons for doing it are completely ridiculous. Contract law already provides protection against customers buying subsidised phones and then refusing to pay for the rest of the contract.

    • If you truly paid for your phone then it is perfectly legal to jailbreak it. If you have a subsidized phone that you only partially paid for you can't just take it from your provider and hop to another network at will until you've paid off your debt to them for the phone.

      The only problem with the way things stand now is that no cell providers provide a clear line in the sand when your subsidy has been paid off since everything is run with telephone company accounting practices (heavily stilted in their favo

      • Re:Don't care (Score:5, Informative)

        by erice (13380) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:09PM (#42960885) Homepage

        If you truly paid for your phone then it is perfectly legal to jailbreak it. If you have a subsidized phone that you only partially paid.

        Not true. In exchange for the subsidy, you entered a legally binding contract that requires you to pay for service for a limited time period. The phone is yours. The state even requires you to pay sales tax on the unsubsidized price at the time of purchase. It is this contract that ties you to the carrier, typically for two years. The lock is completely unnecessary for ensuring that the carrier gets paid and only serves to obstruct the owner from using their own device in any way that doesn't bring extra profit to the carrier above and beyond the required service agreement.

  • by Sina Khanifar (2846779) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:33PM (#42960031)
    Thanks for the support Slashdot. As CanHasDIY notes, it doesn't mean that the decision will be reversed, and I think at best this will be the start of a process to getting the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions revisited by Congress. But hopefully it'll help.
    • Thanks for the support Slashdot. As CanHasDIY notes, it doesn't mean that the decision will be reversed, and I think at best this will be the start of a process to getting the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions revisited by Congress. But hopefully it'll help.

      Or, it could help raise the number of required people "signing" the petition to be doubled! They will find ways to not listen! :)

      P.S. I did sign it, and have signed others in the past. But I really think it's a sort of "let's make the people think th

  • White House Petition To Get Staff Flunky To Reiterate That Cell Phone Unlocking Remains Illegal Needs 11,000 Signatures

    • Sure, but then at least you've forced an elected official instead of a bureaucrat to take an official position on the matter. The mechanics of the US's democracy suck, but low-grade feedback is better than no feedback on terrible decisions.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        Sure, but then at least you've forced an elected official instead of a bureaucrat to take an irrelevant position on the matter.

        FTFY. Or perhaps you haven't heard of Separation of Powers [wikipedia.org]? The best that could happen is that an Executive-branch bureaucrat politely asks a Legislative-branch ("Library of Congress", get it?) to change his mind. And the Legislative bureaucrat politely declines. End of discussion.

        Let's hear it for participatory democratic government!

        • by Elbereth (58257)

          The Librarian is nominated by the President, and our current one is over 80 years old.

          Obama will probably be appointing a new Librarian of Congress, as well as several Supreme Court justices.

  • by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @05:48PM (#42960207) Journal

    Are there any examples of a "We the people" petition actually doing anything even if successful?

  • Talk to your congress critters.
  • Barring possible contract violations with your cell phone provider, I can't see any reason you couldn't take your cell phone into Canada, unlock it there, and then return.

    It's not illegal in the USA to possess an unlocked cell phone, and as I said, it's legal in Canada to unlock cell phones.

    I mean, if you can, say, travel to some country where, for example, marijuana is legal, and take advantage of that fact while vacationing and then return without being held legally accountable for that act upon reen

    • by Qwavel (733416)

      If it were that simple they could just go to a Canadian website, but the problem is the codes. Excepting a few models where the codes are cracked, an individual code is needed for each phone. The codes come from the manufacturer, and it is the manufacturer in consultation with the carrier that sells the codes to third parties.

      When they made 'unlocking' illegal in the U.S. they were essentially banning those codes. This will probably result in the codes no longer being sold to the 3rd parties, so you won

      • by mark-t (151149)

        Going to a Canadian website while in the USA would still involve unlocking it while in the USA, and thus still subject to USA laws.

        When you travel to another country, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting, not your own country's laws, except to the extent that you do not return with anything that your country prohibits.

        As I said.... it is entirely legal in the USA to own an unlocked cell phone, and it's not illegal in Canada to unlock one, and the law does not apparently actually

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      Are you suggesting that the TSA perform marijuana usage scans upon reentry to the USA?

      Joking, sort of.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        No... I'm simply stating that it's not illegal for people to do things that may be illegal in their home country when said things are legal in the country that they actually *ARE* in.

        It's not illegal to unlock cell phones in Canada. It's not illegal to possess an unlocked cell phone in the USA. It's not really not that difficult a concept.

        • Not quite... if you travel to Asia and have sex with a 12 year old prostitute while you're there, the US *will* in fact prosecute you for it if it finds out. California arrests 18-20 year old adults for alcohol possession all the time -- even if the actual consumption occurred in Mexico -- if it can legally get its hands on a blood or breath sample somehow, and determines that they have alcohol in their bloodstream (in CA, Florida, and quite a few other states, having detectable alcohol in your bloodstream

  • for them to build a death star
  • "unlocking a cell phone that is under contract became illegal in the U.S."

    "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full. "

    These are in direct conflict with each other. If you've paid for a device in full, you're not under contract.

    Really, all the cell phone companies need to do to swing things in their favor is to state that if you buy a subsidized phone, it remains the property of the telco until you've satisfied your contractual commi
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      If you've paid for a device in full, you're not under contract.

      A device that you've fully paid for doesn't make/receive phone calls without a contract.

    • AT&T and Verizon are prohibited from leasing phones to customers. In theory, Sprint, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, and US Cellular aren't (they aren't bound by the consent decree that ordered AT&T's breakup & prohibited lease arrangements going forward... AT&T and Verizon are.) The prohibition against leasing was reaffirmed multiple times against BellSouth Mobility in the early 90s (back when a Motorola DynaTac used to cost $3,995).

  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@hotmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:15PM (#42960497) Homepage

    Here in Brazil, it is illegal to sell locked phones.

  • I mean, if you buy a "subsidized" phone and agree on a contract for two years or so, with monthly payments you have to pay if you use their network or not, what do they gain by not allowing you to unlock it and use it with another carrier (and pay for this also)? You're still paying them anyway.

  • by doug141 (863552) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:29PM (#42960589)
    There's also a petition to appoint Susan as FCC Chairman.

    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/appoint-susan-crawford-fcc-chairman/73mtqt0q [whitehouse.gov] ,

    Susan Crawford, law school professor and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Guilded Age, says “Truly high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago, but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.”

    In a recent TV interview, she pointed out high speed access in Hong Kong costs a fraction of what it does in New York city, because the US providers don't enter each other's markets. She wants to change that.

    http://billmoyers.com/segment/susan-crawford-on-why-u-s-internet-access-is-slow-costly-and-unfair/ [billmoyers.com]

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Susan Crawford, law school professor and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Guilded Age,

      It's Gilded Age, not Guilded Age.

      A guilded age might be a nice thing to have.

  • Serious question. With the advent of this official government petition forum, online petitions have been all the rage lately. Topics have ranged from legitimate causes (the one discussed in the article) to silly or facetious ones (building a Death Star). I know it's far too early to tell for the recent petitions, as it takes a while for things to happen in the government scene, but what electronic petitions have actually gotten stuff going?
  • ...and your petition can be *officially* ignored by the White House!

  • If this is anything like previous petitions, I expect the response to be farmed out to an cell phone carrier exec who will ignore the petition's content and instead talk about how much they are spending on building out their network. Bonus points if they end on a riff about how the DMCA protects consumer rights and why ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA would be great for the American public (if we could only get them passed... contact your congressperson!).

  • I can vote in private for just about everything, but to sign this I need to sign in? No thank you.

  • The executive doesn't make the laws, people. Read the constitution sometime.

    -jcr

    • by compro01 (777531)

      No, read the law. The executive (specifically, the Librarian of Congress) has the power to issue exemptions to the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, which they did 6 years ago to allow cell phone unlocking. They then declined to renew that exemption.

  • Since when is the LOC or any staff thereof any kind of legislative body? Who granted them any authority to regulate, well, anything outside of the Library itself? I could understand the FCC issuing a ruling like this, as cellphones are very much within their purview, but the LOC?

    What did I miss?

  • by Theovon (109752) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @11:14PM (#42962685)

    I read the FAQ, and the only thing the whitehouse says they'll do if the petition reaches the threshold is "respond" to it, which so far seems to be little more than long-winded non-answers. I get the feeling that this is intended to keep us preoccupied with the hope they'll do something so we don't notice that they don't actually do anything.

  • I live in the UK, it has never come across to me that unlocking mobile phone is illegal. In fact the service providers here tend to provide instructions on how to unlock your phone. e.g. http://giffgaff.com/unlock [giffgaff.com]

  • Sorry, not getting the logic here, why do they lock on contract phones over there?

    In Australia, in general, if you're on contract, they don't bother locking the device. They don't need to, you're on a contract. Who cares if you use another provider, they are still getting there money every month.

    Pre-paid devices are nearly always locked though, as they don't have any hold over you.

  • by PeterHammer (612517) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:12AM (#42966321)

    Looks like Slashdot still holds some of its power. 100,000 was reached sometime this morning 2/21/2013.

  • Were all too busy with the change.org petition against Oracle.

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