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President Obama signs bill making it once again legal to unlock cell phones

President Obama on Friday put his signature to to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, a bill resolving a number of legal conflicts under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that previously presented legal challenges for consumers seeking to unlock their mobile phones.

SIM-free iPhone 5s


The new law repeals a previous decision by the Library of Congress — the official legal steward of the DMCA — to uphold a provision of that bill that makes unlocking mobile phones illegal. The Library of Congress had previously exempted mobile phone unlocking, but chose not to in its most recent review.

Consumers revolted following the Library of Congress's decision, signaling their displeasure by gathering more than 110,000 signatures on a petition to make unlocking legal via congressional action. The passing of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act marks the first time such a petition has led to a legislative change.

"This commonsense legislation ensured that consumers could transfer their phones between carriers, and that second-hand phones could be put to good use by new owners connecting to a network of their choice," the Obama administration wrote in a release.

Though the law makes unlocking legal, it does not direct wireless carriers to provide unlock codes without a valid reason. Consumers who are still under a previously-signed service contract with their wireless provider, for instance, will still need to satisfy the terms of that contract before being allowed to unlock their device.