Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to permanently enable cell phone & wireless device unlocking

March 24, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Lawmakers will introduce bipartisan legislation today to allow consumers to permanently unlock their cellphones, tablets, and other electronic communications devices in order to switch carriers.

The Unlocking Technology Act of 2015, introduced by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), expands and improves on cell phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year by allowing consumers to permanently unlock all their mobile devices and media in ways that do not infringe on existing copyrights.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act currently forbids consumers from sidestepping technical measures that prevent modifying copyrighted works — such as jailbreaking a tablet to run 3rd-party apps, bypassing digital rights management for archiving or disability access purposes, or unlocking a cell phone — regardless of whether there is any actual copyright infringement.

"This bill reflects how the American public views ownership of their electronic devices," said Lofgren. "It's simple – you should be free to unlock the mobile devices and media you legally purchase. If consumers are not violating copyright or other law, there's little reason to hold back the many benefits of unlocking. It's time we allow people to permanently use their devices without interference."

"Everyone should be free to use their personal property as they see fit and choose their preferred technologies without penalty," said Massie. "This bill rolls back excessive and out-dated prohibitions on otherwise lawful innovations that promote marketplace competition. I look forward to advancing this bipartisan effort with Reps. Lofgren, Polis, and Eshoo."

"Unlocking a cell phone or smart device gives consumers the freedom to choose the mobile technology and service that best suits them," said Eshoo, Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. "It also unlocks potential and puts competition and consumer choice on equal footing in the vibrant mobile marketplace. This bipartisan legislation ensures consumers have this option—permanently. It's a win for consumers, it's a win for competition, and it's a win for our mobile economy."

"Consumers who are not under contract should be able to unlock their cell phones or tablets," said Polis. "We should not have laws on the books that prohibit consumer choice and stifle competition in the marketplace. I am pleased to introduce this bill with Representatives Lofgren, Massie, and Eshoo which will permanently restore consumers' freedom to switch wireless carriers."

The Unlocking Technology Act improves on existing law by  permanently allowing consumers to unlock all of their mobile devices – not only cell phones. Cell phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year merely reinstated a temporary exemption and still relies on the Library of Congress to renew it every three years, which it may choose not to do. The Unlocking Technology Act makes this cell phone exemption permanent and extends unlocking protections to all mobile devices.

The bill would also permit the use and sale of tools — like software apps — that enable unlocking for uses that do not infringe on copyright, and consumers would not be required to obtain permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier. The legislation further requires these changes be included in any international trade agreements.

Click here for bill text and a section summary of the legislation.