Pretty much everybody in Washington agrees with the common man - you should be able to unlock your cellphone without fear of repercussion. Where we tend to disagree is how to go about doing this. Unfortunately, the House has decided to hold a hearing on a cellphone unlocking bill that does absolutely nothing to fix the problem.
The Hill reports that subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing next Thursday to discuss Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. The bill would repeal a decision by the Librarian of Congress last year that made unlocking cellphones a violation of the DMCA.
It sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, Goodlatte's bill, and its companion bill in the Senate, only puts a bandaid on a bullet wound. The bill in its current state doesn't address the DMCA or its anti-circumvention protections that currently make unlocking your cellphone a punishable offense. Instead, the bill will make unlocking cellphones legal for only three years until the Librarian of Congress makes another decision as to the legality of cellphone unlocking.
As I've previously discussed, the cellphone unlocking debate is just one tiny part of a larger debate on the DMCA. It's an outdated bill that was meant to protect intellectual property in the digital age, but instead stands in the way of progress. Rep. Zoe Lofgren's bill - the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 - does a much better job of addressing this issue by permanently legalizing cellphone unlocking and other technology circumventions that don't explicitly violate copyright.
Unfortunately, Congress has a proven track record of pushing for bills that only delay the problem instead of addressing it head on. Depending on how next week's hearing goes, we may get another three years of legalized unlocking before the Librarian of Congress deems it illegal yet again. Maybe then Congress will actually act on meaningful reform, but I doubt it.