The White House Replies… and They Agree!
February 21st was a rather interesting day for those of us in the mobile scene. What seemed like an ordinary day for many, was the day that marked the beginning of a real fight to regain our freedom to unlock SIM cards. That day 100,000 signatures were reached in the petition started over at We the People website. The latest installment in the saga, after almost 2 weeks of silence, was that earlier today, the White House issued a statement, as promised, regarding the petition. Now, before we get to the nitty gritty, we will have to make one point crystal clear: Nothing has happened yet other than the House having made a statement and taken a stance on the entire issue surrounding the DMCA. So, if and when you read on media outlets that SIM locking is once again legal, please, read into the most recent developments first.
Having gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let us get onto the good stuff. As stated above, the White House has issued a statement in response to the petition, which at the time of this article, has over 114,000 signatures, about 14% over the minimum requirement. The condensed version of the response essentially states that the administration and technology experts, including the FCC agree with our stance, and that the unlocking model currently in place does nothing to hurt the market or to put intellectual property in jeopardy, the latter of which was the biggest argument used by the CTIA to convince the Librarian of Congress. Keep in mind that DMCA was conceived to stop piracy and IP theft, and locking GSM devices to carriers does neither of the aforementioned. Luckily for us, there are people out there with a dash of common sense who can see past the bogus statements by the carrier/manufacturer conglomerate.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has sent a somewhat lengthy letter explaining everything that should be modified in the new implementation of the DMCA. Lots of information to go through in the linked 36 page (PDF) letter to the Librarian of Congress. This goes through several (if not all) key points of the Act and how various parts need to be modified for either lack of scope or overall non-sensical dribble. An added bonus of this letter (on top of the already great push for the purpose of our petition) is the fact that the NTIA and the FCC have provided the Librarian with a great definition of what a Tablet actually is. If you recall back sometime last year right after the original draft of the updated DMCA came to light, there was an interesting point made about tablets and how exemptions to tablets should not apply as they constitute a different kind of device. Our good friend XDA Developer TV Producer azrienoch essentially explained how this was a bunch of non-sense. The new provisions would effectively lump tablets and smartphones in the same group since the dividing line between them is almost invisible at this point. A tablet can effectively do anything a cell phone can, so this new arrangement could certainly put a few things back where they should be.
Shortly after the White House made the official announcement, the Librarian made a statement in response to it. The response essentially does absolutely nothing to address any of the points being brought forth by the NTIA. However, it does go on to state that before an exemption is either added or removed, a lot of factors are taken into consideration and said amendments are done as per stated procedures. Well, quite honestly following a procedure does not mean that something cannot go wrong.
The question of locked cell phones was raised by participants in the Section 1201 rulemaking conducted between September 2011 and October 2012 by the Register of Copyrights, who in turn advises the Librarian of Congress. The rulemaking is a process spelled out by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in which members of the public can request exemptions from the law to enable circumvention of technological protection measures. In the case of cell phones, the request was to allow circumvention of technological protection measures controlling access to copyrighted software on cell phones.
I would LOVE to know if said members of the public actually include any public as in people from the public sector (and not multi-billion dollar companies). Based on the fact that 114,000 have signed this petition, the answer is either no or they asked people who had no idea what they were answering. Granted, we are a, somewhat vocal, minority and as such, our opinions on certain matters can indeed be overlooked. However, more often than not, since we can normally see past a few things that people take for granted, we are right about these things. As such, listening to what we have to say is what people know as “sound reasoning”. We know what we are talking about, we don’t sugar coat things, and we certainly do not need lobbyists telling you what you need to hear.
Look, we know that rule making can be hard when you have screaming businessmen (lobbyists) jumping in circles around you. We know that because clowns are quite distracting after all. However, if you are making rules to protect, you need to focus on who or what you are protecting. You are protecting IP from pirates and we applaud you for that. However, you do NOT need to cripple people’s entire existence and put them in the hands of people who, for the most part, are not IP owners at all (carriers, in case you are curious). The letter from the NTIA actually had a nice section (with foot notes) explaining how most companies will charge a fee or force you to a certain length of service before your device can be unlocked. If that is not enough to convince you that maybe, just maybe, this is not worth it… especially since carriers do NOT own the devices or the software in them (thus, no IP to protect), then I strongly suggest that you turn in your resignation and let someone a tad more competent look at this.
To the White House and the Obama administration, thank you very much for caring about us and most of all, for having the capability to recognize idiocy when you see it.
Thanks for reading.
You can find the entire response in the We the People website.
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