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Cellphones Your Rights Online

White House Urges Reversal of Ban On Cell-Phone Unlocking 256

Posted by samzenpus
from the set-my-phone-free dept.
netbuzz writes "In a dramatic call for action directly prompted by 114,000 signatures on a 'We the People' petition, the Obama Administration moments ago urged the reversal of a federal regulatory decision that had rendered the act of unlocking a cell phone illegal. From the reply: 'The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.' Statements from the FCC and Library of Congress indicate that they back the administration's position."
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White House Urges Reversal of Ban On Cell-Phone Unlocking

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  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Monday March 04, 2013 @04:54PM (#43072193)

    He's just politically grandstanding on a popular issue. Nothing will actually come of it, and he knows it.

    Stating his position is "grandstanding"? He should be silent on it so you can trash him about that as well?

  • Confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by karmawhore (122760) on Monday March 04, 2013 @04:55PM (#43072205)

    ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs.

    Since when do we have that?

  • The Real News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:01PM (#43072293) Homepage Journal

    The real news item here is that a We The People petition actually garnered a thought-out response, instead of a boilerplate restating of current policy.

    First time for everything...

  • Re:The Real News (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:09PM (#43072395) Journal

    The only reason this policy is getting attention is that nobody important (read: major corporations) stands to lose much by changing the policy. It's not an important issue, when compared to drug reform, single payer health care, drone strikes, or jailing bankers. It's just a shiny bauble Obama can use to misdirect us away from these important issues.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:09PM (#43072405) Journal

    The decision was made by the Library of Congress, removing unlocking from the list of things exempt from the DMCA I believe. If they reverse that decision, and it sounds like they will, then the problem is solved unless Congress drafts specific legislation to make it illegal.

    In addition to(as you say) the matter being out of Congress' hands unless they amend the DMCA to change the Librarian of Congress' role, it is in some sense the purpose of these goofy little exemptions to protect the DMCA as a whole.

    How better to protect the fundamental overreach of the DMCA(ie. just by combining virtually anything copyrighted with even a totally crap DRM system, anybody can code rules into their product, with those rules being given force of federal law, or at least serving as a presumptively very strong basis for lawsuits) than by having a tame process for throwing the opposition a bone on a few relatively minor; but culturally, educationally, or otherwise symbolically significant issues?

    If the intention were to open a real exemption in the DMCA, it'd be legal to break DRM for any purpose that is otherwise legal, and development, use, sale, etc. of circumvention tools and devices would only constitute aggravating factors in copyright infringement cases, rather than crimes in themselves.

  • CDMA Carriers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZildjianKX (872002) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:10PM (#43072421)
    "...you should be able to use it on another network". Outside the scope of unlocking, but why are CDMA carriers allowed to block activating phones on their network that they didn't sell to you? This seems worse than cell phone locking. Both Verizon and Virgin Mobile both told me I couldn't use an iPhone 4S (CDMA/GSM phone) on their network unless they sold it to me.
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt&lynx,bc,ca> on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:12PM (#43072441) Journal

    In fact, the very reason that they gave for why it was felt acceptable to have a ban on cell phone unlocking (the alleged wide availability of unlocked cell phones as alternatives for consumers) is the very reason that it should *NOT* be illegal for consumers to unlock cell phones.

    Because by creating laws which protect locked cell phones from being tampered with by consumers, the system ends up creating an incentive (however slight) for cell phone providers to actually distribute locked cell phones, usually in place of unlocked ones, so that the distributors can enjoy whatever additional benefits that the legal protection actually offers. It's the same problem as with outlawing the breaking of encryption on copyrighted works... the lawmakers end up supporting a particular business model or technology that may not actually reflect what consumers really want. And because providers of such devices have been given some additional incentive to distribute such locked devices, the availability of unlocked devices will gradually start to decrease over time, ultimately leaving a consumer with little to no choice but to either purchase a locked technology, or else ultimately simply not be be part of the modern culture that regularly uses such technologies at all.

    It might not be immediately obvious, but it's certainly not rocket science either. I only wish more people could see it.

  • Insufficient (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:16PM (#43072481) Journal

    FTFR: "neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation."

    Emphasis mine. It doesn't matter what service agreement you have, it should not be illegal to unlock the phone. If you have an agreement (aka a contract), then the contract language states what you may do with your device to remain within the bounds of the contract, and if you choose to violate that agreement what the injured party is allowed to recover as a result of your default. It's basic contract law - and it's straight forward. The carriers don't really give a rat's ass what you do with your subsidized phone, as long as you fulfill your 24 months of minimum service. If you buy your device, unlock it, and go buy service with another company they really don't care - just as long as your check clears every month for the next two years. Hell, I'll bet AT&T would sell unlocked iPhones for $2000 with no commitment at all ($200+$75/mo for 24 months) if they though they could sell enough of them.

    Point is - this should not be a criminal statute. It's contract law; civil stuff - plain and simple.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MartinSchou (1360093) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:23PM (#43072557)

    The really silly thing is that the Library of Congress gets to decide the legality of cell phone unlocking.

    Yes, I know, it's because of the travesty that is DMCA, but that doesn't make it any less silly.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:24PM (#43072575)

    Stating his position is "grandstanding"? He should be silent on it so you can trash him about that as well?

    I'm not the gp, but I think the "grandstanding" accusation speak more to the regular function of that website and the administration's public positions, than the answer to this one small thing. The answer to everything is, "Hello chumps. Not my problem, go away.", unless it's something ridiculously safe.

    "Yeah, we totally think you should be able to unlock your awesome iphone" requires as much political gumption as, "We definitely think someone should do something about cancer."

    That thing exists as a PR circus, and people seem to love it. But then, people loved Jersey Shore. The purely superficial hat-tip to transparency and open dialog only serves to disguise the fact that he's just-another-Democrat. Though, admittedly, with the best marketing team money can buy.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:26PM (#43072599)

    So the Obama administration shouldn't have taken a position on this?

    I'm pretty sure anything Obama does is wrong. Even when he does the "right thing" the anti-Obama crowd claims he did it for the wrong reasons. It's a form of insanity.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dynedain (141758) <slashdot2NO@SPAManthonymclin.com> on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:38PM (#43072731) Homepage

    Just like all Congress has to do is let the Patriot Act or the Bush Tax Cuts expire, but you don't see those happening do you?

  • Re:The Real News (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:47PM (#43072881) Homepage Journal

    To be fair, a lot of successful petitions also lack what could be called "well thought out" qualities.

    To be truly fair, you'd have to go read all the petitions that received answers; a large number of them, including every single one about marijuana legalization, received the standard, boilerplate B.S. response, regardless of how "well thought out" they may have been. I tend to agree with other posters, who point out that this is likely an attempt by the Obama Administration to trick the public into thinking that they take our grievances seriously.

    Not to mention the outright jokes that the site is used for. We use one of the constitutionally protected tools for fixing our government to ask them to build a death star.

    The lack of proper response to serious petitions came long before the whole 'build a death star' thing, you know. One follows the other, not the other way around.

    Also, I've seen several cases where simple oversight was handled well through a petition, like the use of apes as chemical weapons test subjects on bases(for learning treatment and protection, not increasing the deadliness of weapons, it's not quite as barbaric as it sounds).

    Ah, I see, so they respond to issues the general public generally doesn't give a rat's ass about, whilst ignoring the petitions that affect and are followed by the public at large. Good plan.

    My overall opinion was that this site was one of Obama's better ideas when he was running for office.

    Well, sure it was! It's never a bad idea to make the peasants think they actually have a say in how the government is run, they're far less likely to realize the gravity of the true situation and revolt that way!

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Monday March 04, 2013 @05:53PM (#43072965)

    Technically it's not so much the "Library of Congress" as it is the "Librarian of Congress", a position appointed by the president,

    With the Advice and Consent of the Senate.
    It is not clear that the Librarian answers to the President. Nor is it clear that the President can remove him.

  • Re:The Real News (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:00PM (#43073053)

    That would be correct.

    Say 2000 people move from carrier A to carrier B. Another 2000 will move from carrier B to carrier A. Because y'know... they're the exact same fucking thing anyway. That's kinda how oligopolies work. Welcome to the last decade or so, you've missed a lot.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:06PM (#43073113)
    The President appoints judges, too. That doesn't mean they answer to the President in any way. The LoC was created by Congress. It's part of the Legislative branch, not the Executive one.
  • Re:Political stunt (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cajun Hell (725246) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:16PM (#43073233) Homepage Journal

    In theory, the FCC could effectively overturn LoC's decision, by saying that no one may traffick in a radio device, if any usage of the device requires committing a DMCA violation. i.e. if you want to sell DMCA-enforced-locked phones, then those phones are not allowed to use public spectrum. That would either put an end to locked phones, or make it so that the DMCA arguments aginst unlocking could no longer be applied.

    FCC already has tons of regulations on what phone makers and sellers are allowed to do, and this amount of power and regulation generally has bipartisan support, so there would be few claims of it being overreach or beyond FCC's authorized powers. Trying to prevent the breaking of Congress' own laws (DMCA), well, who in Congress would argue FCC isn't allowed to do that? ;-)

  • Re:The Real News (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:44PM (#43073605)

    The only reason this policy is getting attention is that nobody important (read: major corporations) stands to lose much by changing the policy. It's not an important issue, when compared to drug reform, single payer health care, drone strikes, or jailing bankers. It's just a shiny bauble Obama can use to misdirect us away from these important issues.

    Actually, they do. Local in-network service is practically provided on a at-cost basis (except for data, which is pretty much the only profit center available). What makes them money is roaming - when you roam and pay the expensive roaming fees that can easily be $1/minute+, $0.50/text, $1/MB, etc., that is split up between the foriegn carrier and your carrier.

    It's why carriers offer "travel packages" - hoping you'd go over, as well as being able to charge you a little more.

    An unlocked phone, even on contract, using another SIM deprives them of this revenue source.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:51PM (#43074983)

    I'd just like to see a politician with some convictions and backbone for a change.

    See...you don't, really. People with convictions create standstills. What you want is people who are willing to compromise. People who are willing to see both sides of an argument and will try to get the best of all of it. You need "flip-floppers". You need people that will accept that they can't have everything they want. Stop voting for people that are "strong leaders". Vote for people that work well in groups.

  • by BradleyUffner (103496) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:18PM (#43075403) Homepage

    I think what's going to come out of it is that the contracts with carriers will be re-written.
    When you "buy" your smartphone at a discounted price from a carrier by all means they should own the carrier lock as it protects their "investment" into subsidizing the handset in hopes of making it back with profit (albeit disproportionately large profit) on your contract. Until your contract period is in place, I don't see why it should be allowed for you switch carriers?

    That's why you get charged an ETF for breaking the contract early. The ETF is supposed to make up for the part of the subsidy that hasn't been paid back yet.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @12:08AM (#43075675)

    A democracy can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury.
    Paraphrased, Elmer T. Perterson, The Daily Oklahoman

    Can you point to three examples where a democracy failed because the masses voted themselves largess? For every single example you give, I'll give three examples of a society failing because the aristocracy voted themselves largess from the public treasury.

    If you can't point to three clear examples of democracy ending because "the voters discovered they can vote themselves largess", can you please just stop regurgitating this hateful bullshit fucking meme.

    Frankly, most voters are vastly more decent and selfless than those at the top. Which is why political arguments about "belt tightening" and "sacrifice" resonate so much with them. And "fairness" and "family" and "American values". Even when you give them free stuff, you have to couch it in terms of caring for the poor, or creating a decent society, something larger than "hey look, free shit".

    Now I'm not saying people are all that bright, hell half of them have below average; which is why they don't always see when politicians and lobbyists using terms like "fairness" and "values" are lying and stealing from them. But they are trying to vote for the right thing. And this constant war against the integrity of the masses (the "takers", the "47%", the "welfare mentality") is not only disgusting, it is the real cause of harm to your nation.

  • Re:Political stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @12:23AM (#43075759)

    The difference is there's no "pro-cancer" lobby.

    There is, however, a large and well-funded anti-handset-unlocking lobby; which is why the LoC reversed their original decision allowing unlocking. So the President coming out in favour of a completely unfunded public group, against the will of the funded business lobby, is actually a much greater gesture than a "Cancer bad, m'kay."

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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