The last we heard, things were looking good in the fight to reform out-of-date policies on device unlocking here in the US. Last week, the FCC chairman sent a letter to the CTIA saying he’d like to see changes made before the holidays. But don’t get your hopes up just yet.
According to information recently leaked by WikiLeaks, the White House—despite publicly supporting unlocking—has been secretly negotiating a treaty with other countries and special interest lobbyists that would make this and other processes illegal by international law…
Here’s the gist of the leaked information via Slate:
“Last week, WikiLeaks made public a portion of a treaty that the White House has been secretly negotiating with other nations and 600 special interest lobbyists. The draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty,which is on intellectual property, shows that HealthCare.gov isn’t the only tech topic on which the Obama administration has some serious explaining to do.
…in its present state, treaty would expand copyright and effectively make real reform impossible. Worse, it would essentially disregard constitutional limitations on copyright and reject pillars like fair use, the first-sale doctrine, and having copyright be for “limited times.” The worst part: While the White House was publicly proclaiming its support of cellphone unlocking, it was secretly negotiating a treaty that would ban it.”
In January, following appeals by AT&T and other carriers, the Librarian of Congress issued a ruling making unlocking a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The move has not only hurt competition, but also the resale market for cell phones and other devices.
Shortly after the ruling, a White House petition went up asking the Obama administration to make unlocking legal again. And after some 114,000 people signed it, the White House responded, agreeing it should be legalized. But secretly, it’s been working towards the opposite.
“The leaked treaty draft shows that while the White House was championing restoring free market principles to phones, the U.S. proposed that the TPP lock in the process that allowed the Librarian of Congress to rule this technology as illegal through international law.”
And what’s worse, unlocking isn’t the only process the treaty aims to ban:
“But the TPP draft doesn’t stop there. 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.”
Slate points out that since this treaty is still being negotiated, all of these issues could be addressed in the final text. But as it sits right now, it’s very secretive and very contradictive of what the White House has said publicly, making it very sketchy. Read the full leaked document here.