White House Petition protects jailbreak software

The White House has issued a response to a petition that wants to ensure the right of people to unlock their mobile phones, including iPhones.

Whilst there is currently no law against unlocking mobile phones, the Digital Millennium copyright act could prohibit such actions. This - in turn - could result in iPhone unlocking and jailbreaking software such as Redsn0w and Pwnagetool from being taken off the market (or at least being forced underground).

Jailbreaking software makes it possible to install apps other than those provided by Apple, they are also a step usually required to unlock an iPhone. Although Jailbreaking and Unlocking are not necessarily related, both process (and the software involved) is intertwined.

See: How to jailbreak your iPhone

The petition, titled "Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal" noted that "The Librarian of Congress decided in October 2012 that unlocking of cell phones would be removed from the exceptions to the DMCA." The DMCA (or Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is a US-based copyright law designed to prohibit a number of technological devices, services, or acts.

There are a number of exceptions to the DMCA such as copying short portions of DVDs to incorporate in new works, and to circumvent computer programs that are protected by dongles but considered obsolete. Unlocking mobile phones, however, is conspicuously absent from the list of exceptions.

Mobile phones sold under contract are typically locked to a specific carrier (O2, Three mobile, and so on). This ensures that you can only use a SIM card from that carrier with the device. This prevents users from using the phone with another network.

Unlocking enables users to insert any SIM card they like into a mobile phone. This can have many legal and morally credible purposes. As the petition notes: "Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full."

At the time of writing the petition has gained 114,322 signatures.

In the United Kingdom, mobile phone network providers are not obligated to provide unlocking, even after the end of the contract. This means that even after a user has finished paying for an iPhone, typically after an 18-24 month contract, they may have to stick with the original service provider, often paying a higher rate than they'd be able to get elsewhere.

Jailbreaking and Unlocking software is one means whereby individuals can circumvent reluctance from their mobile phone provider to unlock a phone. The process is generally not difficult, and many independent mobile phone providers in the UK perform the service on behalf of less technically savvy customers.

See: UK is iPhone unlock capital

Like the UK, the White House runs a system whereby individuals can nominate issues they'd like politicians to respond to. If a certain number of people vote for the petition it triggers a response.

The White House response states:

"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."

It continues:

"The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation."

So it seems that the White House has taken note and responded, although it has not explicitly committed itself to ensure that the petitions demands are met. It's a good sign though for those interested in Jailbreaking and Unlocking their mobile devices.