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White House comes out in favor of legal mobe unlocking

FCC: Lockdown 'doesn't pass the common sense test'

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President Obama's idea for a petition system has come in for a lot of criticism – some of it deserved – but if the latest response to a petition on mobile phone unlocking is anything to go by, the system has definite benefits.

The petition was created following the decision by the Librarian of Congress to review the remit of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and criminalize those consumers who want to unlock their handsets from a network. After it quickly reached the newly required 100,000 signature minimum, the administration issued a coordinated response, with the Librarian, the FCC, and the administration all calling for reform.

"The White House agrees … that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," said R. David Edelman, senior White House advisor for internet, innovation, and privacy.

"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."

The current administration would support efforts to get legislation on the books making mobile unlocking permanently legal, he said, and he pledged to work with Congress and the mobile phone companies to remedy the situation. Edelman also said the FCC would have an important role to play going forward, and the agency issued a statement of its own on the matter.

"From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test," said FCC top dog Julius Genachowski.

"The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution."

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress also issued a statement saying that it valued the recent "thoughtful discussions" it has had with the White House on the issue and that the decision would "benefit from a review." But under the terms of the DMCA, it said, its hands are tied for the moment.

"The rulemaking is a technical, legal proceeding and involves a lengthy public process. It requires the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights to consider exemptions to the prohibitions on circumvention, based on a factual record developed by the proponents and other interested parties," it said.

"The officials must consider whether the evidence establishes a need for the exemption based on several statutory factors. It does not permit the U.S. Copyright Office to create permanent exemptions to the law."

So, on the face of it, the petition does seem to have worked, at least at bringing attention to the issue. Actually getting it resolved is another matter, if the buck-passing seen in all of these statements is anything to go by.

Sina Khanifar, one of the founders of the petition, said that he was encouraged by the show of support and was now concentrating on building "a SOPA-style organization" to get the law permanently changed. The new organization will be announced on Tuesday. ®

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