The people — over 100,000 people, that is – have spoken, and they want it to be legal again to unlock cellphones in the United States. A “We the People” petition on the White House website calling on government to make it legal to unlock phones again has passed the 100,000 -signature threshold, requiring the White House to respond.
Unlocking a phone, which requires a software alteration, allows the phone to work on other carriers if you put in a new SIM card or want to take the phone to another carrier for service. But in October 2012 the U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress decided to remove phone unlocking as an exemption under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). On Jan. 26, it went into effect, making it illegal to unlock a phone.
When the law went into effect in January many were upset — including Sina Khanifar, 27, who decided to do something about it. He started the White House petition.
“I really didn’t think we’d get to 100K signatures,” he told ABC News by email. The petition saw a surge from Reddit after the law went into effect, but Khanifar didn’t stop there. “By yesterday when we crossed the 100k signatures mark I’d sent over 1,000 emails to reporters to help get the word out.”
Khanifar used to run cell-unlock.com, a site that provides instruction on how to unlock phones. When cellphone unlocking was illegal at an earlier time in 2005, Motorola sent him a cease and desist letter. Jennifer Granick, an attorney and Director of Civil Liberties for the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, took on the case pro bono.
Now that the petition has had over 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it’s the White House’s turn. “We will do our best to respond to petitions that cross the signature threshold in a timely fashion, however, depending on the topic and the overall volume of petitions from We the People, responses may be delayed,” the White House Petition site says.
But no matter what the White House says, Kanifar said plans to continue the campaign to make it legal to unlock phones again. He has set up a website, Fix the DMCA, for people who are interested in continuing the campaign, and will be encouraging people to write to their elected officials.
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