Mobile

Congress finally introduces a smartphone unlocking bill that doesn’t stink

For someone running on less than two hours of sleep, smartphone unlocking activist Sina Khanifar is feeling pretty good.

That’s because members of Congress today introduced “Unlocking Technology Act of 2013“, a new bill that would make it permanently legal for you to not only unlock your smartphone, but also circumvent the digital rights management on any device (as long as there’s no copyright infringement).

The bill comes after 114,000 people, along with the White House, decried the Librarian of Congress’s decision to outlaw smartphone unlocking last October. As one of the primary activists opposing the ban, Khanifar is, in a word, enthused. “This new bill checks all the boxes,” he told me.

Unlike previous bills (which Khanifar previously described as “Band-Aids” ) the latest bill tackles all of the largest issues activists have identified in the current laws. In addition to legalizing smartphone unlocking, the latest one also legalizes unlocking tool as well. This, Khanifar, says, is a big deal. “Every bill we’ve had so far has only tackled one piece of the issue. This one gets all of them,” he said.

California representative Zoe Lofgren, one of the bill’s proponents, says the legislation is all about consumer rights.

“Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased. If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there’s little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices,” she said in a press release.

“It’s such an important consumer right to modify devices after you buy them,” Khanifar said, noting that there many hackers who have learned how their devices work by taking them apart.

Khanifar isn’t alone in his appreciation for the bill. Public Knowledge legal affairs vice president Sherwin Siy also praised it, noting it “not only makes it clear that consumers can, of course, unlock their phones without fear of legal repercussions; it also addresses a longstanding problem with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”


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