Here's a breath of fresh air in the world of smartphones and politics. A new bipartisan bill has just been introduced to Congress which aims to clean up the whole carrier phone unlocking issue. The new bill called the The Unlocking Technology Act was introduced by US Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO). Although most of these reps are Democrat, one of them is Republican and one of the Democrats is considered very moderate. This creates a pretty balanced bipartisan team to introduce this bill, which is something we don't see happen very often.
This new bill, internally called HR 1892, aims to redefine the way the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) works and add a permanent exemption for carrier unlocking. Just in case you were unfamiliar, the DCMA in its current form blocks consumers from unlocking their phone from their carrier; however, every three years it comes under review by the Library of Congress and usually gets a temporary exemption for carrier unlocking. As we reported previously here, earlier this year Congress let the exemption slide which made it illegal again to unlock your phone from your carrier. This bill intends to create a fix for that so that, under certain conditions, consumers will permanently be able to unlock their phones. The folks at AndroidPolice shared an excellent explanation of the three primary intents of this new bill. Here's a quote,
As you can see, this is great news for consumers and is a rare showing of bipartisanship for the protection of consumers' interests. Now the bill has to pass the House and the Senate and get signed into law by the President after that. Luckily, the outcome for this bill looks very good. The White House has already expressed their desire to pass legislation just like this if it comes across their desk. Also, it is unlikely to get stopped in the Senate, so now it just needs to pass through the House. We will keep you guys apprised on its journey through the legislative process.HR 1892 focuses on three things: one, re-defining the definition of DRM "circumvention" in the DMCA to cover only those exploits that specifically allow copyright infringement. So the DMCA would still make it illegal to pirate a video game via a cracked licensing tool, but unlocking or rooting your legally-acquired phone would be permissible, even if it means technically violating software copyright. The first provision of the bill also calls for a review of the DMCA in general, and section 1201 (the one which punishes copyright protection circumvention) in particular.
Second, HR 1892 calls for a permanent DMCA exemption for carrier-based phone unlocking, with or without the carrier's approval. This would put an end to the three-year cycle of congressional approval and renewal by adding this particular exemption to a list of permanent DMCA section 1201 exceptions. It also covers the tools used for carrier unlock, and makes them legal - again, under the somewhat nebulous definition of non-infringing DRM circumvention. The relevant portion of the bill is quoted below.
Lastly, the bill includes a direction that the executive branch (i.e. the President and his staff and appointees) clear up any conflicts that this bill might cause with international agreements. It's been argued that at least some international trade treaties negotiated by the US Trade Representative could be incompatible with a national legal standard for unlocking phones; this provision basically tells the President to clean that mess up.