New federal cell phone regulations bad for citizens

On January 26 it officially became illegal for consumers to unlock cell phones purchased after this date in order to use them with a different carrier. The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, made this decision in October 2012. Unlocking cell phones was previously allowed as an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

The ban has not, to say the least, been well-received by the populous. It has, in fact, been so ill-received that a petition was submitted to the White House. The petition was created on January 24 and submitted to the “We The People” section of www.whitehouse.gov and has 114,322 signatures.

The petition states, “We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision [to make cell phone unlocking illegal], and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal.”

With so many huge issues confronting the country today, this rather small change to the DMCA might seem irrelevant, but the fact is that both Democrats and Republicans have shown support for the reversal of this ban. In addition, the White House responded to the petition that was submitted.

The official White House response was written by R. David Edelman, Senior Advisor of Internet, Innovation, and Privacy. The response is also available at whitehouse.gov. The response states that “The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.”

Again, it may seem unnecessary to raise an issue such as this, but it is a very important one. The DMCA, which was signed into law 15 years ago, determines many restrictions in the realm of technology.

The petition submitted to the White House, on one hand is a complaint based on consumer rights, but on the other hand it, intentionally or otherwise, raises important questions about the ways in which technology has changed the country.

In the realm of consumer rights, it is quite clear that not allowing an individual to do what they wish with their property once they are no longer contractually obligated by a carrier is simply wrong. Edelman stated in the official response that this is “common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”

This ideal is engrained in the minds of many people in this country, so it is no surprise that this ban has become such a problem or that the White House felt it was necessary to respond to the petition.

The scope of this ban and the public’s reaction is not limited to consumerism. As mentioned earlier, the ban also raises questions about the ways in which society will choose to respond to technology rights.

Perhaps it is necessary to take a completely new look at the DMCA and its applications in the country as it stands technologically today. As the title suggests, the DMCA is concerned with the “digital millennium,” however this millennium is still changing. It is important to at least begin considering the implications of bans such as these as well as the way society responds.

The fact that a petition was submitted and officially responded to suggests there is a serious need to address the problems with the DMCA that are being made apparent because of changes in the world of technology and is role in the country.