Should you be able to unlock your cellphone? Over 100,000 Americans and the White House certainly think so. Some members of Congress think so as well, and the House-backed legislation that would legalize cellphone unlocking is one step closer to a final floor vote.
The Hill reports that Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill would reverse the decision of the Librarian of Congress late last year that made it illegal to unlock a cellphone. If passed, consumers would be able to move freely between carriers without having to buy a new phone.
The bill as it stands would only legalize cellphone unlocking while leaving other mobile devices chained to the outdated DMCA. Thankfully, the bill would also require the Librarian of Congress to work with the Register of Copyrights and the Department of Commerce to determine if other mobile devices should be exempt from the DMCA as well.
Now, here's where things get interesting. During the Committee meeting, Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Zoe Lofgren proposed an amendment that would let a person unlock a phone belonging to somebody else. The idea is that family members who know more about phone unlocking could help their technologically illiterate move their phone to another provider. The amendment ruffled some feathers as other representatives argued the amendment would allow smartphone thieves to unlock their purloined mobile devices.
In particular, Rep. Mel Watt said that the amendment would lead to more smartphone thefts:
"If I were in the theft market of cellphones, I would go and steal a locked cellphone. I wouldn't want to go to a carrier [to unlock it]…I would want to go to some fly by night person off somewhere. I think we're able to facilitate a theft market that we have not anticipated, and that's the kind of thing I think we need to be studying the implications of before we take this step."
The amendment's supporters eventually won out in the end as the amendment was added to the bill that was passed by the committee. Now we just have to see if the House at large will appreciate the amendment.
Despite all the good that Goodlatte's bill does, it still doesn't fix the broken DMCA that made cellphone unlocking an issue in the first place. Much like the Senate bill, the House bill only serves to put a band-aid on a bullet wound.
But hey, that's how Congress works. They tackle the easy problem and claim to have fixed it while completely ignoring the larger issue at hand.