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Monday, March 04, 2013, 10:30 am PT (01:30 pm ET)

Obama administration endorses legalizing the unlocking of cell phones & tablets

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration made a statement on Monday publicly supporting the ability of users to legally unlock their cell phones and other devices for use with the carrier of their choosing.

Unlocked iPhone 5


The statement was made in response to a citizen petition filed with the White House, entitled "Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal." That petition was created in response to a Library of Congress ruling made in late 2012 that determined cell phone unlocking would be removed as a legal exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Writing on behalf of the administration, R. David Edelman, senior advisor to the Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy, said the White House agrees with the more than 100,000 people who signed the online petition.

"Consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," he said. "In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smartphones. 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."

Calling those rights "common sense," Edelman said ensuring the ability of consumers to unlock their devices is "crucial for protecting consumer choice.""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." — White House Senior Advisor R. David Edelman.

While the statement is a win for those who believes consumers should be able to unlock their phones and tablets once their service contact is completed, there's nothing currently on the table legislatively to protect those rights. But the Obama administration said it will support a range of approaches to the issue, including legislative fixes, or relying on the Federal Communications Commission to step in.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Congress, the wireless and mobile phone industries, and most importantly you — the everyday consumers who stand to benefit from this greater flexibility — to ensure our laws keep pace with changing technology, protect the economic competitiveness that has led to such innovation in this space, and offer consumers the flexibility and freedoms they deserve," said Edelman.

As of Jan. 26, 2013, unauthorized unlocking of all newly purchased phones became illegal. That prompted the creation of the petition by Sina Khanifar, who spoke with AppleInsider last month.

Khanifar frequently travels from Europe to San Francisco, Calif., and said he has found cell phone locking to be not only a nuisance, but also a financial burden.

"Anyone who travels internationally, and most people do at some point, you won't be able to take your cell phone with you," he said. "Trying to use it with the existing roaming fees that carriers charge is almost impossible because they're so exorbitant."