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White House opposes restrictions on unlocking cellphones

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The Library of Congress established federal copyright penalties for unlocking a cellphone, which kicked in on Jan. 26. Criminal penalties include a $500,000 fine and/or five years in prison for the first offense. Wireless carriers can collect statutory civil damages ranging from $200 and $2,500 per violation.

More than 114,000 people signed a petition asking the Library of Congress to rescind the new DMCA provisions, which kicked in on Jan. 26. Cellphones were previously exempted from DMCA regulations.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also expressed concerns about the DMCA rules about unlocking cellphones.

"From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test,” Mr. Genachowski says in a statement. “The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers' ability to unlock their mobile phones.

The White House’s statement notes the Library of Congress agrees that the issue has implications for telecommunications policy and would benefit from review.

The Obama administration would support “narrow legislative fixes” to ensure that neither criminal law nor technological locks prevent consumers from switching carriers after they complete a service agreement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the White House’s stance: “Your rights to reuse, resell, or give away devices are especially important—and the Obama administration gets this. As the administration’s telecommunications agency pointed out last year, digital locks backed up by legal threats aren’t just used to police copyrights—they’re used to block competition.”

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