Congress Passes Bill That Makes it Legal to Unlock Cellphones

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday that would allow consumers to open the digital locks on their cellphones, legislation that was already passed by the Senate. Unlocking mobile phones makes it easier to switch wireless carriers. Under current copyright law, however, consumers risk jail time and fines up to $500,000 for unlocking their phones without carrier permission. Such restrictions have proven unpopular with the public and last year a petition called for government action.

White_House“Cellphone unlocking was actually legal until last year, when an earlier exemption to copyright laws granted by the Library of Congress, the overseer of the United States Copyright Office, expired,” notes The New York Times. “Some carriers have unlocked cellphones for consumers for some time, but the new law will make it easier for consumers to do it themselves or through a third party.”

The proposed legislation is referred to as the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

“The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cellphone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” said President Obama, noting that he looked forward to signing the bill into law.

“It’s a positive for consumer choice that you are going to be able to unlock in a variety of ways,” said Christopher Lewis, VP of government affairs for consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.