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Unlocking Cellphones Should be Legal, White House Says

Robert Kneschke/

People should be able to “unlock” their cellphones so they can use them on whatever carrier’s network they want, the White House said Monday in response to a popular petition posted to its We the People website.

The petition asking the government to re-legalize unlocking cellphones is one of fewer than a dozen that have crossed the bar to receive an official White House response since that threshold was raised to 100,000 signatures in one month in January. The petition crossed the threshold with just two days to spare.

Unlocking a cellphone allows it to be used on a wireless network other than the one that originally sold it. The Library of Congress invalidated a copyright exemption that made it legal to unlock cellphones in October. The ban officially went into effect Jan. 25 for all phones carriers that chose to enforce it. 

“The White House agrees with the 114,000 plus of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties,” the response from R. David Edelman, the president’s senior advisor for internet, innovation, and privacy said. “In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network.”

The White House would support various fixes to make unlocking cellphones legal, Edelman said, including new legislation, new directives from the Federal Communications Commission or voluntary moves by cellphone providers to allow customers to unlock their phones.

(Image via Robert Kneschke/

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