An online petition asking President Obama to oppose a new rule restricting cell phone owners from unlocking their devices has passed the 100,000 mark, which means the White House is now obliged to respond.
The petition, which passed the threshold Thursday night, now stands with more than 102,000 signatures. This is a protest against a regulation from the Library of Congress that prohibits unlocking phones without the carrier's permission, a process known as “jail breaking,” even after a customer's contract with the carrier has expired.
"I think it demonstrates that the American people care about free markets. They care about property rights. They don't appreciate laws that represent crony capitalism."
"Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad," the petition says. "It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full. 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.”
While the act of prohibiting citizens of the United States from unlocking their own phones may seem bizarre, the wireless carriers' lobbying arm, CTIA, asked for the new rule and they have been pushing it ever since it first took effect on January 26.
It "makes our streets just a little bit safer by making it harder for large-scale phone trafficking operations to operate in the open and buy large quantities of phones, unlock them, and resell them in foreign markets," CTIA general counsel Michael Altschul wrote in a blog post.
The Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office are part of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, meaning that President Obama cannot overturn the decision. However, Congress does have the power to rewrite the law, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which gives the Library of Congress the effective power to regulate certain technological gadgets in the name of copyright law.
Under the DMCA, Americans are generally prohibited from "circumventing" copyright-related technologies, with criminal penalties targeting people who profit from doing it. However, the DMCA gives the Library of Congress the authority to grant exemptions, which it did for cell phone unlocking utilities in 2006 and 2010.
Last fall, however, the Library of Congress reversed position after lobbying from CTIA, that represented carriers including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel. It ruled the exemption was no longer necessary because there were no "adverse effects" related to locked phones and unlocked phones were readily available.