Obama Administration Tries to Ban Phone Unlocking, Claims to Support ItS

Slate is reporting that, while the Obama administration has long been making noises about trying to support phone unlocking, it's also been busy readying legislation that would actually ban the practice.

Derek Khanna trawled through the recent Wikileaks dump—which included a draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Treaty—and found some things he wasn't really expecting. "While the White House was publicly proclaiming its support of cellphone unlocking," he writes, "it was secretly negotiating a treaty that would ban it."

The draft of the TPP seems to suggest that the technology required to be in place for unlocking phones be made illegal through international law. That would make attempts to make the cellphone market a free one—there have been a few proposed bills so far to that effect—would never be able to work. In fact, the TPP went further, as Khanna explains:

"It would ban numerous other technologies that have beneficial uses. In particular, the legislation would ensure that jailbreaking—which is installing a different operating system on your phone, tablet, or e-reader—is illegal. It's already on precarious ground in the United States, but under TPP it would be illegal in all circumstances."

This all flies in the face of what the Obama administration has claimed in the past. For instance, a petition to the White House advocating the practice of cellphone unlocking garnered the following response:

"The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones. ... 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."

Which rather smacks of an administration which is saying one thing while it does another in the background. It's worth noting that the TPP is still being negotiated, but as it stands it might not be a walk in the park to make phone unlocking a legal right. [Slate]

Update: Derek Khanna got in touch to add a few details...

"The permanent solution to unlocking means not relying on the librarian of congress and having this be legal under the law. The tpp, as drafted in August, would disallow a permanent fix in the law; however it would be possible for the librarian of congress to grant an "exception" for unlocking - but this year the librarian ruled to ban unlocking. The technology should be legal period.

"Same story with jailbreaking, now jailbreaking a phone is legal, but a tablet is not. Any real jailbreaking solution (as the bill we are promoting hr1892) wouldn't be allowed under tpp."