How to do something about the phone unlocking fiasco

There's a petition you should know about, and sign, to roll back changes to phone unlocking laws.

Original photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks on Flickr

When I wrote last Thursday about how phone unlocking without permission would soon be illegal, only one other news outlet (Mashable) had taken up the story. As of this afternoon, there were hundreds upon hundreds of posts, re-posts, and analyses. Announcing that people now faced fines of up to $500,000 and imprisonment of up to five years for trying to use their phone on a competing cellular network certainly stirred the pot.

I’ve read dozens of stories since that first post, talked it over on All About Android, and come to this conclusion: many of us are very sad that almost nobody noticed the original action by the Librarian of Congress in October 2012. We’re even more sad that so few knew about the expiration of the 90-day window for unlocking phones last Saturday. And many people want to know what they could have done, or still do, to undo what they see as ridiculous on its face: opening your subsidized smartphone up to more radio signals being, literally, a federal crime.

[Jailed for jailbreaking: The new law could land you in the slammer and How Apple, Google and Samsung could lose the smartphone market]

There is something you can do. There is now a petition on the White House’s “We the People” platform to “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal”. As of today at 5 p.m. Eastern time, the petition had 57,041 signatures. It requires 100,000 signatures by Feb. 23, 2013 to elicit a response to a petition from the executive branch.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that “illegal” is maybe not quite proper terminology. There are still protections for “rooting” and “jailbreaking” your phone (that is, modifying its software to allow more permissions). And it is, indeed, unlikely that carriers are going to start suing people for taking their phones to other networks, especially if they already still make a hefty fee from early termination clauses in their contracts.

All that said, the point remains: the cellular phone makers told the government that it would be just great for business if people had to ask before switching their phone to any other network. The government, even if just one rule-maker inside it, agreed. The notice didn’t reach very far, and now we are, in so many way, leasing phones we thought we owned. You should tell the government how you feel about that.

Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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