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A group of US Senators, including Al Franken, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have introduced legislation which, if passed, will allow US mobile phone users to unlock their phones at the end of a contract.

Cellphone unlocking is currently illegal in the US, after the Library of Congress removed an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act last year.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act would ‘quickly allow consumers to unlock their current phones instead of having to purchase a new one,’ said Franken. ‘Right now, folks who decide to change cellphone carriers are frequently forced to buy a new phone or risk the possibility of criminal penalties, and that’s just not fair for consumers,’ said.

The removal of the exception for cellphone unlocking from the DMCA was described by former Republican party staffer, Derek Khanna, as ‘a clear example of crony capitalism, where a few companies asked for the law to be changed to their pecuniary benefit—despite the invasion of our property rights, its impact upon consumers, and its impact upon the overall market.’

A petition to legalise cellphone unlocking, drawn up in the name of We the People, and heavily advocated by Khanna and other campaigners, attracted over 110,000 signatures. That triggered a response from the White House, in which it indicated that the Obama Administration supported the move:

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. 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. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.

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