Some good news for the fight against tyrannical cell phone regulation. The official White House petition calling for the Librarian of Congress to rescind the decision to allow a DMCA exemption allowing entities other than the operators to SIM unlock phones ... take a deep breath -- that was a mouthful ... has eclipsed 100,000 signatures, meaning we'll likely see some sort of response from the Obama administration at some point. 

That doesn't guarantee action. That doesn't mean it no longer will be illegal to SIM-unlock your phone on your own, without operator approval. And it still doesn't change the fact that it's not like there were goon squads going around, scooping up hordes of unruly unlockers. This is mainly a tool to be used in extreme cases of litigation. Chances are if you've finished paying off your subsidized handset, and your account is in good standing, your operator will give you the SIM unlock code.

But that doesn't mean that any of this is a good use of DMCA legislation. Thus, the petition. "If a petition gets enough support," the site reads, "White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."

So maybe we'll see something change, and maybe we won't. But for sure, the position that operators shouldn't be the sole decider on SIM-unlocking phones will be heard.

Here's the full text of the petition presented to the White House:

Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal.

The Librarian of Congress decided in October 2012 that unlocking of cell phones would be removed from the exceptions to the DMCA.

As of January 26, consumers will no longer be able unlock their phones for use on a different network without carrier permission, even after their contract has expired.

Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. 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.

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.

Source: White House petitions


Reader comments

Petition asking Obama to take on SIM unlocking hits signature threshold


I signed this a while ago. But I'm hoping that a "White House Response" is something more than just a snide remark from Jay Carney.

We the people, now need lobbyist in order for our representatives to represent us, corporations pay millions for lobbyist to buy off our congressmen. I signed it, but doubt there will be any change. The Carriers lease the spectrum from the FCC and the spectrum is actually owned by all U.S. citizens, including the consumers, so you would think the policy should be changed.

the carriers are being stupid... they are missing out on
a source of revenue that does not involve any cost on their

Charge customers for the SIM unlock code, say, $50 per code
per phone? Sure, those of use who know better won't pay, but
I'm willing to be that hundreds of thousands of "average"
customers will happily fork over $50 for the code at the end
of their two-year contract. $50 is quite reasonable, seeing
how many people routinely pay $25 to $35 to those SIM unlocking
websites or on eBay.

You must be made of money.

I would prefer to see carriers create a class of users who are not provided any official support at all & allowed to do whatever they want with their phones, anytime without consequence. I would join that carrier in a heartbeat -- there's my money. Not on some additional $50 charge for legal b.s.

I wouldn't call $50 "reasonable"...especially considering there are often ways to unlock for free...and there's no reason you're not entitled to the code after the device is paid for.

Your entitled to the code, because you paid for the phone through the initial payment and higher postpaid service cost. The reason your entitled to it is in your original statement.

The device is yours after the contract ends, which should now be yours to use as you wish.
If you've fulfilled your contract they should provide the unlock code for free.

Here is what I don't get about the SIM unlocking. I can see it being illegal to unlock your phone while on your contract as that is how carriers make the money back from the subsidized phone. But, how are you going to tell me I can't unlock my phone in any way I see fit if I paid full price for it? That is just like me telling you that it is illegal to put a new aftermarket part in a car you paid full price for. It is retarded and an abuse of power.

Agreed, though I would also comment that if your paying full price for a device, it should come unlocked. At least in the case of GSM devices, you can get most devices factory unlocked. I use prepaid and always buy factory unlocked devices just to avoid any hassles.

Don't pay full price for devices at the carrier store, you can find better deals online and they usually can be bought unlocked.

I don't think there is any reason to SIM Lock a phone ever.

They have a legal contract, and your credit card number to back it up. That is really all the collateral they deserve.

Did Best Buy lock that Big Screen TV you bought on a installment plan?
Did your car dealer put a lock on your car till its paid off?
What about that Dinette Set, the Riding lawn mower, or any number of other things people buy on installment payments?

In some countries selling locked phones is illegal, Chile, Singapore, Greece and Israel to name a few.

The petition should have demanded an end to locking nation wide. The carriers already enjoy a virtual lock-in due to the varying technology and cellular bands in use, they don't need a legal lock in as well.

Let me guess what the response will be.

We don't make new laws. That's what the legislative branch is for.

We don't strike down existing laws. That's what the judicial branch is for.

Just more political hand-waving to make you feel like you have a voice.

At least the "Death Star" petition had a clue what that site is all about, and treated it as the joke it is.


*Heads back to his jaded and cynical rock*

The executive branch enforces laws, the white house is exactly where you would go to petition an active law.if the petition works, the white house would work with the legislative branch to overturn it legally.

The guy who made the decision is the Librarian of Congress. Its called the Library of Congress for a reason, namely because it is part of the Legislative Branch of government.

Congress could have appointed the FCC to oversee this regulation, yet they chose the Library of Congress, (which has virtually no other legislative or enforcement duties or authority). Clearly Congress wanted to keep this power out of the Executive Branch.

I doubt they will even give it a second thought.

"consumers will no longer be able unlock their phones for use on a different network without carrier permission, even after their contract has expired."

This isn't even true. Carriers can still unlock your phone, and will most likely have no reason to say 'no' as long as your subsidy has been paid off and you own the phone free and clear.

Are you really that naive? T-mobile is actively trying to get AT&T customers to bring their old unlocked phone to T-mobile now that their refarm makes AT&T HSPA+ devices completely operational on T-mobile's network. Unlocking the device is in this case letting the customer leave and easing their transition to T-mobile as they don't have to get a new device.

The ruling doesn't specify conditions under which the carrier needs to unlock devices, what's to stop AT&T from simply refusing the unlock devices thus making defecting to T-mobile after your contract is up harder or only allowing unlocks for people who need to use devices overseas, with the stipulation that getting the unlock code renews your contract.
That's just a couple ideas off my head, they can put whatever stipulations on getting an unlock code that they want.

I smell a bought and sold government decision for AT&T.

It'll be fine. I just had 2 phones unlocked by AT&T that were no longer subsidized. Stop making a big deal out of nothing.

The fact of the matter is that this law will pretty much affect nobody. They WILL unlock your phone once you're out of contract. It's a non-issue for us non-shady consumers. The only people that should be upset about this are the shady folks who want to unlock a phone and sell it for profit or want to buy a phone for $199, pay an ETF of $350, and get a $700 phone for $550 to use on another network.

Again, it's the shady folks that care. If you're not shady, you shouldn't care about this. The carriers will unlock your phones once you are out of contract.

Regardless of any of the circumstances I mentioned, their is no reason to restrict unlocking to just the carriers. They have ETF's to make up for subsidies lost when a user drops AT&T before their contract is up and they can still blacklist your imei for nonpayment. Also you forgot the one month of service you have to pay for, if trying to scam the system and get a phone for less, the math doesn't work out to any considerable savings and it stopped being a working scam when AT&T and Verizon raised their etf's.

Plus good luck getting a phone unlocked if your not a current postpaid customer. Not everyone buys their phones direct from the carrier and is a current customer of AT&T. Problems like this arise in second hand markets on ebay for instance. Last time I checked buying a used phone from ebay was completely legal. and Prepaid is growing more and more, of which many users use used phones or older phones.

The old if your not doing anything wrong .... argument is tired and just bad. making it harder to use your personal property is unnecessary and just puts even more power back in the hands of carriers.

Hey people, there is another petition to the white house for stopping the carriers from over-charging users for tethering devices to our already paid data plans, please help push this one too.

Verizon and AT&T both include tethering in their share plans, so you can use your tiny allotment of data however you wish.

Sprint confines unlimited data to smartphones only which is a very reasonable policy
They charge extra for tethering because your most likely going to use a lot more data while tethering than you would on a smartphone alone, having seen how quickly a laptop can burn through wireless data I think it's perfectly reasonable.

T-mobile charges $5 extra for tethering and too imposes limits on tethering dataplans for the same reason as Sprint.

The other two big companies charge you extra for tethering because they have unlimited plan options that are designed for the smartphones, not the excessive bandwidth a tethered laptop can create.

Sorry but there's really not much of a case here, heck the only reason Verizon was prosecuted is because they were charging extra for tethering while having Capped data plans
Unlimited data plans don't apply to tethering, you buy unlimited smartphone data, it says so in the contract.

In these cases, your trying to get something for nothing and if your plans really ever succeeded, the great result would be T-mobile and Sprint abandoning unlimited data.
It would be a very short lived victory.