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White House Response to “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal” (whitehouse.gov)
752 points by sinak on March 4, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 274 comments

Hey guys, petition starter here. Just wanted to thank anyone who signed for their support. I just got off the phone with the White House and they're really enthusiastic about getting this fixed. We also discussed fixing Section 1201 of the DMCA permanently, and they've agreed to continue the conversation on that.

When I originally posted this to HN at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5112020 there were a lot of very skeptical responses to the effect of "petitions don't have any effect". The optimist in me is glad they were wrong. The White House seem to be genuinely committed to helping push through a piece of legislation to fix this. If there's something about government that bugs you, it's worth trying to do something about it.

Also, we're launching a campaign to ask Congress to change Section 1201 of the DMCA, with backing from the EFF, Reddit and others.

Sign up at http://fixthedmca.org - should be launching the site tomorrow.

I hate to break it to you, but their response was effectively: "we agree with you but we respect the process that brought us to this fucked-up state and look forward to continuing to work with congress".

Petitions don't have any effect other than getting a response that's designed to get you to stop complaining from a false sense of achievement. In that sense, they work perfectly.

If he just got off the phone with the White House, I'd imagine he has a pretty good idea of what their response was. Your cynicism is a big part of the reason it's so hard to change things around here.

No it's not.

I emigrated from the US after it became clear they weren't going to reinstate the rule of law. Your military-industrial complex is the reason that it's so hard to change things around... there.

This is why you have bullshit laws like the DMCA in the first place.

It's not? Normal people abdicating the political process is exactly what hinders change in democracies.

We just completed our one-hundred-thirteenth peaceful transition of power at the will of the people. The entrenched powers-that-be are only entrenched because we, as an electorate, keep voting for them. If everybody showed up to the polls, they'd be out in two years— but hey, why bother?

There has been no transition of power. Power is still in the hands of those who have bought it. All democracies are far from perfect, but the US have allowed theirs to be dominated by money from the very foundation.

Even quite corrupt democracies are more open to be changed by popular vote than the US, were not being bought and paid for beforehand means you don't have the means to successfully stand for election.

Hell, even countries where political candidates regularly get murdered stand more chance of peaceful democratic change.

The US political system is a effectively a convoluted equivalent of having a ballot with only one name on it. Only in this case it's a dollar sign. I would be very surprised if this could be overturned by peaceful means, but it will most certainly require extra-parliamentary action, because US democracy has been sold.

This goes for all of you: Bullshit. Learn some recent political history, starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement#2010_electio... The Tea Party didn't sweep because they had money (although they did), but because they got people to vote. They were elected with a mandate to destroy the Federal government, and by God, they almost pulled it off. Whether you're progressive or libertarian, the reason the established parties keep winning is because their people vote, and our people don't.

Gerrymandering is a huge problem. Voter suppression is a huge problem. Electoral fraud may be a huge problem. But these things have not succeeded in destroying our democracy, yet — the person who wins the election becomes the person in power, every time. Our system is working, we're just losing.

So don't get involved if you like, sit back and be cynical if it makes you feel better(?), but don't pretend you're not part of the problem.

The tea party isn't a great example at arguing against the effectiveness of money in politics, as the entire movement was partially founded on astroturfing done by Koch Industries and big tobacco. Now I wouldn't go so far as to write the movement off as an example of "democracy not working" or what have you, as the tea party had it's share of honest grassroots self-organization, but it isn't fair to say it developed independently from moneyed interests.

> the person who wins the election becomes the person in power, every time.

That is a joke, isn't it?

Well, almost every time. Shit does happen. But no, I would seem to be the shockingly uncommon American who has some measure of faith in the process of self-governance that has seen us through the last two hundred thirty years.

Cushman, you sound like somebody who believes everything that you were taught in school, and you are unwilling to entertain an idea that has the possibility of destroying the foundation of your world view. Don't try to impose your world view on events as they occur, rather, observe the world and consider all possibilities. Things usually are not what they appear to be. The expert is not always right, even if he thinks he is.

You tell this to the guy who's responding to the worlds most common imposed view. That of the internal workings of a system being dictated solely by malice and corruption.

"Why does this computer hate me?!" "The people who built it must be stupid."

It's not world changing in any way at ALL to say some entity or organization is corrupt. Find me an organization that hasn't being called corrupt.

Do you remember in 2011, when OPERA had some experimental results that suggested neutrinos were moving fast than light? I was in the reddit comment thread covering this story at the time. I made the point that there's no way this is actually happening, and that they were just releasing these results to get 3rd party analysis into what was happening.

By the next morning I had a flood of downvotes and comments about how naive stubborn thinkers like me are rejecting science and ruining the world, and that if only I'd open my eyes to the possibility of something new, even if it shook the foundations of my beliefs, then we could make progress as a species. ect. ect. ect.

Turned out it was a measurement error and they were just releasing results to the public to get 3rd party analysis.


I am most certainly not an idealist, but I take it as a compliment to be called one.

I don't think arthurrr called you an idealist. Naive, maybe.

Well, let's agree to disagree.

Why are you so sure this concept of self-governance is what has kept the peace, and not, for example, some other forces involved? Why must we give all credit to the public sector?

Bullshit. The Tea Party was swept into power because they had financial backing from rich extremists and mass media support. I'm somewhat sympathetic to the point you're trying to make, but you could not have picked a worse example.

Yes, the Tea Party started out as a grassroots thing, but it was quickly co-opted by the existing power structure and its message lost.

I'm not talking about grassroots, and in fact I don't really believe the Tea Party was ever anything more than a covert big-money lobby that got wildly out of hand. But money is not what wins elections— it's the votes that get counted at the end of the day.

We're all so predictably unparticipatory that spending a hundred million dollars to move the needle a few tenths of a percent one way or the other makes good political sense. If everybody showed up to vote, that would simply not be true. That's the point I've been making this whole time.

> Power is still in the hands of those who have bought it.

As former Presidents Steve Forbes, Nelson Rockefeller, Ross Perot, Donald Trump, John (Heinz) Kerry, and Mitt Romney clearly demonstrate, money is all that matters in politics.

You have to look know futher than to the likes of Jack Abramoff to know US government is controlled by money:


Just one example from the link:

> Abramoff and his law firm were paid at least $6.7 million by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) from 1995 to 2001, which made manufacture goods with the "Made in the USA" label but is not subject to U.S. labor and minimum wage laws.

What’s good about that one is it went on for years and all the politicians knew about it.

What’s good about that one is it went on for years and all the politicians knew about it.

I think you are trying to make the point that money bought the all politicians. While that is somewhat true in some cases it isn't the full story.

I suspect if you dig deeper what you will find is that no one cared enough to fix the problem.

I'd note in particular that the bill designed to stop the abuses in CNMI was passed unanimously in the Senate, but then blocked by Tom DeLay in the house[1]. While is it easy to say that DeLay blocked the bill because of money, the truth is that DeLay is quite happy to block any bill that involves new labor laws.

Abramoff found someone who's politics already aligned with what he wanted to happen and then made sure that person saw it as something important enough to do something about it.

I'm not at all sure that is political corruption at all.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abramoff_CNMI_scandal

Former president Mitt Romney?


(ie, Money is important, but it isn't the only thing)

Power is still in the hands of those who have bought it.

You're half right. Technically we tax payers only lease our elected officials, they aren't our property (that became illegal a few years ago)

What's really funny is how people keep paying into a system they don't like and never do anything about it. According to popular practice, everyone thinks that Facebook and Twitter statuses will create change in Congress. Somebody should write a FAQ about that.

I agree I don't like the peaceful transition wording. Republicans and democrats collude together, and are both paid off by almost every major company in the US to vote in their favor. Both are owned, both put forth candidates in each district that fit their ideology and interests, and people vote between two politicians groomed to uphold the party line.

There isn't a choice. It is why I vote libertarian. But the root problems are deeper than that, mainly that you have individual citizens voting for too many people they have no empathy or commonality with, and that politics is a profession rather than civil service.

>Republicans and democrats collude together, and are both paid off by almost every major company in the US to vote in their favor.

Not exactly. There are two things that win elections: Money and votes. And money only because it can be used to buy votes.

When the major parties agree on an issue it's because that issue has a stable equilibrium: Either the parties both side with the electorate or the monied interests because the number of vote-equivalent dollars gained in changing positions is not greater than the number actual votes lost by doing so (or vice versa). So you don't see many politicians seriously advocating legalizing murder or drastically slashing the defense budget, respectively.

But all you have to do to get them to change is to make the number of votes they lose by siding with corporations on a particular issue greater than the amount of money they get by doing so. You don't even have to get the parties to split -- most of the issues they're split on are intentionally wedge issues or detail-free hogwash like "small government" or the vague notion that rich people should pay more taxes. You can actually get them both to start siding with the interests of the people on a particular issue, you just have to make more noise than what the opposing interests are paying in dollars. It has happened before. The establishment of the EPA, the breakup of AT&T, the defeat of SOPA, it's a pretty long list.

But it only happens if we make it happen. We have to make them understand that if they don't do what we want, they lose more votes than the money they're being paid can buy them back. Getting 100,000+ voters to sign a petition that brings the issue to the attention of lawmakers may not be sufficient to achieve that on its own, but it ain't a bad start.

We had the ability to pressure with votes 50 years ago. Today, the vast majority of congressional districts are so heavily gerrymandered the ruling party can do anything and the political climate of that region is so fanatic that people will never not vote for their choice party candidate.

Out of 435 house representatives, each election every two years, only a dozen or two seats will change party. At best. That often throws the balance in congress towards one party or the other, but the vast majority of congressmen can be corrupt as fuck and never worry about losing their seat because they are in "red" or "blue" districts.

If you don't live in one of the few turbulent districts with political discourse, nothing will change and the congressman has no care for his / her constituents because they can't be displaced, and the constituents are brainwashed into an us vs them mentality and local culture of blaming everything on the "other guy" even when their rep is actively voting against them.

Gerrymandering is a serious problem, but it just changes the tactics necessary to win: Instead of spreading out nationwide to try to change the result in every individual district, we concentrate on the districts with contested seats. And because those seats determine who gets the majority in the legislature, if you can cause a substantial number of votes to change sides in those districts based on the party's stance on your issue, you can influence the party's platform -- or deprive them of the 51st vote necessary to pass legislation contrary to our interests, because the representative from the contested district can't vote against us without it costing the next election.

In addition to that, gerrymandering just pushes the real campaign into the primaries for those seats. If your representative's party has a hard lock on your district's seat, do what the Tea Party has been doing and primary the incumbent. And fewer people vote in the primaries, so each vote you can shift from one candidate to another counts for more there.

You're absolutely right about this and this is why third parties have to be a huge part of any reform effort. The system has been gerrymandered to support two parties, but not three. If someone can attack the entrenched party from either the left or right and gain passion about specific, focused issues the whole corrupt system falls apart, hopefully long enough to pass a widespread reform effort.

Forget about third parties. Third parties can't win with a first past the post voting system -- the minute you have three viable parties, the two most similar parties immediately starting losing elections to the least similar party because the more similar parties split the vote between one another, and since they're not stupid they realize this and stop running candidates against one another, effectively merging into a single party.

But you can get the result you want through the primaries. Run your candidate against the incumbent in the primary and keep emphasizing your specific issues and publicizing the incumbent's corrupt stance on them -- even if you don't always win, you may be able to get the incumbent to change positions.

> Forget about third parties. Third parties can't win with a first past the post voting system

This is known as Duverger's Law:


There are a number of meaningful counterexamples, perhaps most notably in the UK, where Lib Dems have received a significant number of seats since 1974.

These discussions tend to obscure the degree of differences within a given party in the US. (ie, Zell Miller and Dennis Kucinich once shared a party. Though Kucinich was given an "F" by the NRA on gun issues, Zell was later elected to the NRA's board of governors. Kucinich was also a strict vegan, while Zell once threatened to shoot Chris Matthews. You could run similar comparisons by bringing in other Dems, you could do the same on the other side of the aisle. ie, not many Republicans would consider marrying one of the Kennedys or praise Obama's post-hurricane support, but a couple would.)

Any two-party system with a diverse electorate will eventually have to allow substantial variation in candidates and viewpoints, or it will be inevitably reduced to regionalism and obscurity.

A many-party system will eventually force smaller parties into large coalitions to attempt any governance at all.

In short, a two party system and a many-party system are not substantially different in the number of political viewpoints they entertain, nor in the types of compromises required between those factions to result in political action.

AnthonyMouse, your above posts and analysis of the US political system are reasoned and logical. Thank you for sharing your views - which inspire me to become more involved in making change happen.

If you're not already aware, I would encourage you to check out Lawrence Lessig and the Rootstrikers organization which is aiming to reduce the influence that money currently has on elections.

Question: Can you recommend any particular organizations that are employing your above strategy of targeting primaries of contested districts to defeat soulless "bought and paid" incumbents?

Unfortunately, the "entrenched powers" in the US definitely have not been elected by anyone. Because of this, we haven't had a true transfer of power in many many years.

> The entrenched powers-that-be are only entrenched because we, as an electorate, keep voting for them.

99.9% of federal employees are not elected. That's the true entrenched power - the permanent bureaucracy. They'll be there regardless of who gets elected.

Democracy looks a lot more like direct action than petition writing and voting. Look at the fight against the Keystone XL. All the campaigning in the world couldn't beat the fossil fuel lobby. But a few days of direct action in east Texas has resulted in route changes that even the best connected farmers couldn't implement.

There are some that think a two party system isn't democratic at all (Most Europeans, except the UK, but they don't consider themselves Europeans). Others here think parties are not democratic at all (Some Italians for example).

You are having a laugh! There hasn't been a disruptive presence in US politics since you ganged up with the French because the Brits were charging too much tax (same old, same old).

lol. i'm so sorry that you are still under the impression that voting is how you change the system.

> Your military-industrial complex is the reason that it's so hard to change things around... there.

Wait..., what? The military-industrial complex has something to do with locking cell phones? Are you familiar with the origin of this phrase?

The military-industrial complex is probably the reason he thinks the military-industrial complex is responsible for everything wrong in America

It has quite a lot to do with the corruption of principles that make such legislative absurdities possible.

The DMCA is not a "legislative absurdity." It was embraced by both content owners and internet companies, who sought the safe harbor provisions of the act. From Congress's viewpoint, it was a measure that had broad industry support, with little to no public opposition.

As for why "broad industry support" is so crucial--it's because Americans care pretty much only about jobs. The media sector has jobs and the internet sector has jobs, and when you can get content owners and tech giants to agree on something, well then from the perspective of a Congressman you're in job-creation wonderland.

It's mind-boggling to hear all these rants about how "democracy is dead" when people here obviously fail to look beyond their own circle of idealistic friends to see what the American electorate is really asking for. E.g. remember Obama and Romney falling over themselves to see who could support coal power more in the last debate? You think it was because of checks written by the coal lobby? Of course not. In 2008, more than half of Obama's money came from donations under $200. Some coal lobby checks aren't going to make a dent in the situation. The real reason the candidates fell over themselves supporting Big Coal is voters. Voters in rural Pennsylvania whose livelihood depends on the coal industry. Hell voters everywhere--even your average American liberal is deeply skeptical of well-established progressive concerns like the environment, and are liable to believe something like "we can't pass measures that raise energy prices in a recession." You think they give a shit about "freedom of information," the "freedom to tinker," etc?

American politics is 90% a referendum on jobs, and has been since the recession of the late 1980's/early 1990's. Big corporations hold themselves out as job creators and creators of economic growth. At least half of voters outright believe that, and even among those that ostensibly don't, they don't disbelieve it all that strongly. That's what creates the corporatism in American politics.

Why does Congress support Verizon's right to lock down their phones over peoples' freedom to tinker with their phones? Because Verizon creates jobs. And while individuals may be annoyed by policies like that, what they are more worried about, indeed deeply afraid of, is any measure that would piss off the job creators.

Embraced by both content leasers (I refuse to say "content owners", because copyright is a finite monopoly, not ownership.) and internet companies, but not by the general public.

It is absurdity because it provides a mechanism by which fair use can be completely restricted. It is the equivalent of saying "You are completely allowed out of your cell, provided that you do not break the lock."

> Embraced by both content leasers (I refuse to say "content owners", because copyright is a finite monopoly, not ownership.) and internet companies, but not by the general public.

The way politicians see it (not without merit): embraced by 'job creators', ignored by the public, opposed by a tiny minority of people who wouldn't vote for them anyway.

"The DMCA is not a "legislative absurdity." It was embraced by both content owners and internet companies,"

And they're what's important, right?

The fact it inflicts perverse rules on everyone else is just a side effect and who cares?

I direct your attention to the "industrial" part of the "military-industrial complex" statement. Giant telecoms and media companies, protecting their aging and anticompetitive business models, paid large sums of money to the legislature to get laws passed to make it a criminal offense to circumvent their dying business models and to protect their entrenched positions.

So, yes, the reason that we have the DMCA is because of big content and big telecoms - a large part of the "industrial" arm of the "military-industrial complex".

Thank you, drive through.


The phrase does not apply to any industry, it refers specifically to the defense industry, of which telecoms are not a part. Otherwise, we could plausibly say that any sufficiently large business in the US is part of the "military-industrial complex," which is not the case.

So it has little, if anything, to do with the military-industrial complex.

That also has nothing to do with the "military-industrial complex"

In order for that to fit the analogy, AT&T would have to have lobbied the government to create that so it could profit from it.

The entire reason this was controversial was specifically because we consider telecommunications working hand-in-hand with intelligence agencies to be a violation of our basic freedoms. Had this been set up in a foreign country by KBR, it would fit within the concept of the "military industrial complex."

How exactly is the military industrial complex related to DMCA? If you really mean special interests, then say that instead of recycling the 'military industrial complex' catch phrase.

How exactly is the DMCA "bullshit"? It provides an (addmitedly imperfect, yet better than the alternative) notification/takedown/reinstatement process and indemnifies content providers from the infringing acts taken by their users.

There might be many BS copyright laws and extensions, but the DMCA ain't one of them.

This has nothing to do with the takedown and indemnification sections. It has to do with the sections which make talking about, writing, distributing, and running certain types of code illegal.

We're talking about 17 USC § 1201 - Circumvention of copyright protection systems (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/1201), the anti-circumvention part of the DMCA, most importantly 1201(a) Violations Regarding Circumvention of Technological Measures (with the associated 1201(b) Additional Violations).

What you're talking about is USC 512 (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/512), 17 USC § 512 - Limitations on liability relating to material online

These are more or less completely unrelated apart from being introduced in the same legislative act (which also did a fair number of other changes to the law.)

Wait, are you saying the military-industrial complex is responsible for the DMCA? Because it's really, really not.

Perhaps you should look up what "lobbying" is, and what industries have lobbies. (hint: ALL OF THEM)

Sorry to break it to you, but this response is completely in line with the rule of law - the Administration is bound to follow the laws passed by Congress, even if they disagree with those laws.

Where did you emigrate to?

Neukölln, Berlin, Germany


Same here. Berlin is absolutely awesome. My wife and I came back to the US this winter to visit with family so they could meet our new baby. The longer I'm back in the US though, the more I miss Berlin.

If anyone is in the video game industry and wants to try and move to Berlin, this is a pretty good company who is hiring right now: http://www.yager.de/career/

The way I immigrated was by having a baby with a German. That allowed me to get a work permit / permanent resident status without any hassle at all.

I'd be interested in reading about your experience doing this. I've been considering leaving the US as well lately.

I hope you do not get too dizzy by the swings on the cradle of democracy and peace that you moved to. How would someone compare democracy in the States with that in Germany is beyond me. People tend to forget very easily.

>"reinstate the rule of law".....are you kidding me, right now?

I mean....ok...I get that the process by which laws are made and passed can seem corrupt at times.....but come on.....this is just straight hyperbole and cynicism.

If you are complaining about America, why don't you move to a third world country - where we don't have basic things like election campaign laws that politicians have to disclose donors.

It's so easy to complain about what you have...when you have no idea what others have to live with on a daily basis.

The rule of law is not mutually exclusive with a "military-industrial complex."

Anyway, where did you move that's so much better? Somewhere else you can organize a petition against the interest of major corporations and receive a phone call from the highest levels of government agreeing with you and asking to work with you. Sure, some small uniform Scandinavian governments might be more accessible, but I'm curious what your choice was.

Mexico? The wall along the border is not to keep Mexicans out, it is to keep Americans inside.

"Military-industrial complex" doesn't vote. People vote. If people refused to vote for congressmen that enact stuff like DMCA, this won't happen. But most of the people think as long as their congressman "brings home the bacon" and doesn't steal too much money and doesn't cheat on his wife (this one is the most important for some reason unless you're Clinton), it's fine.

The DMCA has little to do with the military and everything to do with the fact that humanity simply doesn't know how to accurately value software goods, which are non-scarce in their marginal cost of production, next to a world full of hardware goods, which are strongly scarce and sometimes near-impossible to make more of (land, water, air, etc).

I appreciate your view only because the skepticism is important as it draws attention to things optimists of the system like me will ignore.

There is a problem with some skeptics that purposely lead people on goose chases, but the true ones will attack key problems that we can then focus our efforts.

Response != action.

Well, I'd argue that cynical responses like these are the most detrimental response of all.

Pessimism is not realism. Getting the full verbal support of a second-term lame-duck administration with nothing to lose is not a negligible achievement. Some progress != no progress. You're right that petitions have limited scope and effect, but in successful efforts like these, they can generate publicity and political momentum, giving ammunition and gravitas to Congressmen who would co-sponsor legislation. At the very least it is a step in the right direction.

The system is broken, but sitting back and needlessly berating those who would try to take small steps to achieve small goals is hardly an acceptable response. It's calculus; if you integrate a positive attitude over a large enough population of believers, you can effect large-scale change. If you integrate so-called "cynical realism" over the same intelligent population, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeatism which is nothing to pat yourself on the back about, either. I applaud sinak's achievement and I hope that this conversation shifts to what steps need to be taken next.

>second-term lame-duck administration

The term "lame duck" typically refers to Presidents at the tail end of their term, most often used in the time between an election and a transition of power. That isn't the case here.

Right. I was just trying to refer more specifically to the fact that since the term-limit is already reached, this administration has more political flexibility to back more contentious issues.

From wikipedia: A president elected to a second term is sometimes seen as being a lame duck from early in the second term, because presidents are barred from contesting a term four years later, and is thus freer to take politically unpopular action. Nonetheless, as the de facto leader of his or her political party, the president's actions affect how the party performs in the midterm elections two years into the second term, and, to some extent, the success of that party's nominee in the next presidential election four years in the future.

But you are certainly correct about typical usage.

Well, if you're looking to feel superior to the rubes, a little tried-and-tested "they're all the same" cynicism will really do it for you.

Petitions raise visibility and they require organization to get the signatures. Organizing to get the signatures once means you build the mailing lists etc to organize for other things later.

I mean, when they instituted this petition thing in 2009 do you think they were really thinking "We need some kind of 1984 mind control device here after that presidential campaign"?

As far as the actual content -- read the word 'respect' in the diplomatic context there and it's pretty clear that they'd love to get rid of this, but don't have the legal authority to just up and do it.

I spent about 15 seconds clicking on a petition, and the guy who started the petition was able to use that to start a dialogue?

If anything, it's remarkable how effective that was. What sort of change did you expect with so little effort?

If you've ever done business development, you'd know that opening that dialog is frequently the hardest step. Meaningful changes are carefully considered, and they don't happen overnight. This is a good first step.

"you'd know that opening that dialog is frequently the hardest step."

How true and essentially the value of "connections" I would add. They get the person (you are "selling" to) to at least listen to what you have to say and consider it and to typically be taken more seriously.

Just last week they mandated publicly-funded research should be publicly available within a year -- thanks to a petition.

Quit being such a damn naysaying cynic.

What outcome would you have been happier with? The executive branch cannot pass legislation.

It can't pass legislation, but it can issue an executive order. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_order

However, an exec order for cell phone unlocking would be a tremendous waste of political capital.

An executive order would also probably be a waste of time because it is irrelevant; the FCC is an independent agency and not directly overseen by the Executive Branch. The President appoints commissioners but Congress has to approve them and they do not report to him/her.

And more importantly, an executive order can be ignored by any subsequent presidency. This change needs to be in law for it to have any teeth.

Unfortunately, that kind of stuff takes time.

And probably illegal, since the LoC was explicitly given this power by Congress.

Refuse to enforce this clause of the DMCA and pardon anyone imprisoned because of it.

Has this actually been enforced against anyone so far?

Whether it actually gets enforced doesn't matter, what matters whether people refrain from engaging in the activity (or aiding others in doing so) because of the risk that it could be.

There's always that risk with unenforced laws - there's hardly ever (ever?) a stated policy of non-enforcement, since the executive is also technically obliged to enforce everything congress has told it to.

I would generally be interested to know if it ever has actually been enforced so far.

Those are civil suits - not criminal enforcement that the administration could choose to pursue or not

Sklyarov was arrested.

Is that the part of the DMCA we're talking about here?

What else are they going to say? "We will issue an illegal decree making it legal to unlock cell phones again?"

If they (the White House) can point to the guilty parties here (congressmen, senators, lobby groups) or even point to relevant bills or decisions, it will help us in terms of knowing which politicians we should not vote for.

Remember: vote with your wallet/ballot. Outrage works when it is concentrated and directed at the right people.

I did vote with my wallet: I voted for a different government, by taking my productive energies and contributions to the GDP to another nation, because it's clear to anyone paying attention that the triad of the two parties and the media have reached some sort of perverse Nash Equilibrium in the US.

Resultantly, nothing that you put on a ballot is going to reverse the direction at this point. There's only voting with your tax dollars.

I'm pretty sure who voted for the DMCA and/or specific anticircumvention provisions is a matter of public record. We don't need any help from the president to identify those legislators and vote for their opponents.

Sad but true. Is the White House, ie the executive, the right entity to petition in this matter, which seems to be legislative? In Germany we have a mechanism to bring stuff in front of [a committee of] our parliament, is there anything like that in the US?

As far as I know the only way to do so is by lobbying one of your Congressional representatives (or one of the Congression representatives on the subcommittee in question to introduce the question for you).

"getting a response that's designed to get you to stop complaining from a false sense of achievement"

I'm also sure they bend over backward to find a reason to agree with something just so they can say they are agreeing with some petitions and get points for it in news stories instead of giving a negative response.

Politicians do this as well. If you visit your local congressman he will be glad many times and enthusiastic about supporting your special interests. How much he goes to bat for you depends of course on the issue and who you are. At least he can wave a finger and say "I tried but the others wouldn't vote for it". Much better than telling you up front your issue will never get voted into law.

If you have some information from the phone call that wasn't in the official response, then it's probably worth sharing it here. Otherwise, the official statement seems to absolutely confirm the doubts of the original skeptical responses.

This is as good of a response as you can expect. This is a win. If you expected anything else (sneak, I'm looking at you here too) then you've never received a response from the White House on an issue on which they truly disagree. That letter would have said something like "While we respect your opinion, we believe that the current law best satisfies the needs of blah blah blah."

Here, they are saying: yeah. We agree with you. We don't write the damn laws- but here is what we're willing to sign.

Our job is to get our Senators and Representatives to change the law.

It may not be pretty, and it's certainly not efficient, but this is democracy in action. It requires effort from its citizens in order to work. Not running away.

EDIT: I forgot to add, that I did receive a 'blow it out your ass' response from President Clinton many years ago. He later reversed his stance on the issue, but it was too late for him to affect it and just left it as a recommendation to the next pres- who ignored it.

Based on what you're describing, I think you're going to have a tough sell for the merits of this process if the "win" case and the "lose" case have identical outcomes, but differ only in the language that is used.

I think everyone has their expectations set too high for A. what a petition will really achieve and B. that the executive branch has any position to change laws. The parent to your comment seems to sum this up pretty well.

So while I see your point that many may view this as ineffective and therefore a loss I definitely consider it a win in agreement with the parent.

1. Petition was made 2. Signature goal was met 3. WH responded favorably in agreement with petition supporters. 4. ... 5. Profit! ;)

Exactly, I just think it's a tough sell when the difference between the non-believer case which sees this as ineffective, and the believer case that sees this as a "win," is sufficiently low expectations about what this achieves (nothing).

The larger question is a tension, not about what this process produces, but about what this process reproduces. The really dangerous aspect of ineffective but affirming processes like these is the implication that We the People have the power no matter how much evidence accumulates to the contrary. It follows logically that when The People don’t affect changes in our system, we must not want to change it. Hypothetically, we believe in justice, freedom, etc. or we would not have formed a democracy. Since we freedom-loving, democratic people would naturally act to end oppression as soon as we found it out, it follows that if a policy, law or practice does not change then it must not truly oppress people.

Clearly, this train of thought has not, does not and will never transport us to a genuinely free society.

So I think we've achieved a "win" in getting the White House to say publicly that they support this. The original petition them to either convince the Librarian to reverse the decision (which I realized at the time was kind of impossible), or to champion a bill in Congress. They aren't quite championing a bill, but the response indicates that "The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes."

I'd much prefer a broad fix, repealing Section 1201 of the DMCA, So that's what I'm working on next. Having the WH says that there are real problems that need to be addressed by Congress seems like a "win" - but perhaps of the milder kind. A loss would have been if they defended carrier/CTIA positions, or simply stated that the Librarian of Congress has authority and that they can't take action. Both of those were definitely a possibility.

Generally, I agree about the danger of affirming processes that don't result in real action. If the bombard-congress-campaign I'm working on at FixtheDMCA.org works, we've got the abstraction in place to let other people create similar campaigns relatively easily. Which will hopefully those freedom-loving, democratic folk get more involved in the political process, which is ultimately what we want.

I think other similar platforms, for example Causes or Change.org fall woefully short in actually affecting change legislatively. Hopefully what we're working on will be better in those regards.

In the 3rd paragraph of your petition you allude to unlocking your phone for use on multiple carriers:

"Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad."

If their response only applies to situations where you've let your service contract expire, it doesn't seem to allow you to unlock your phone for use on multiple carriers while under contract with the carrier from which the phone was purchased. Could you clarify whether you're satisfied that their approach would avoid criminal liability in such a situation?

You can be a current customer with outside of the (typically two year) contract period. Currently AT&T (and possibly other carriers?) will unlock the phone for you in this situation. But, it wouldn't be terrible to have this specifically allowed/required.

You sound like you've thought a lot about the issue, so i'm curious what impact you think the WIPO Copyright Treaty will have. Since anti-circumvention is required by a treaty that we ratified, doesn't that make trying to totally repeal it an extremely uphill battle? Are there any recent examples where we did that? What is the impact on the US with WIPO if we officially contradict it?

What are the pros and cons versus trying to amend it down until it didn't apply to much of anything?

Yep, this is definitely a tricky part of it. Trying to figure this out with the EFF at the moment. Will try and elaborate soon, on a really tight deadline at the moment.

> We the People

You're confused about who "We the People" are. "We the People" are not the technolgenstia that hangs out on HN. "We the People" are my wife's parents in rural Oregon. There are things they care about, but this is not one of those things.

"What this process reproduces" is inaction on issues that don't rile up more than a tiny minority of people. I'm not sure why this is surprising.

""" > "We the People" are not the technolgenstia that hangs out on HN. "We the People" are my wife's parents in rural Oregon. There are things they care about, but this is not one of those things. """

Processes like this affirm the logic that government fails us because we the people are too apathetic, or too unaware, or too stupid, or too anything at all to yield our immense power (!) as we ought. That, yes, if we enlightened/progressive few could only mobilize, inform, or educate the public, then everything would work out beautifully!

Power can rest easy as long as we place blame on ourselves and not them for our alienated position in modern society, and that will continue until we recognize the lack of agency that we have, rather than reproducing processes which give us a false sense of agency.

As I see it, there's basically two ways to effect change. One is to trust that the abstract entity 'government' is a benevolent being and that we have but to supply a couple of good arguments to make it do the right thing.

The other is to take matters into our own hands and to force them to make those decisions that we want, if only by making a clear statement of: "if you want to keep your little seat of power, you better do these things we want or we'll vote in someone who will".

Approach one is naive at best: even if people in government are generally willing to make the right decisions (which is by no means a given), identifying what decisions those are is a hard problem to begin with, and that's is compounded by the fact that there are many more forces at play than mere morality (pah!).

Positive change doesn't just magically come about because many people sit on their couches being really, really in favour of something. They come about when many people get off their couches and take action. Our governments fail us because we've largely forgotten that democracy is more than going into the voting booth every 4 years and choosing between bad and worse.

That is an uncharitable way of putting it though. There are some very good reasons (or excuses) for our failure to fulfil our part of the contract in a healthy democracy.

If you work 12 hours a day just to make ends meet, live paycheck to paycheck, and all you have energy for in the evenings and weekends is sitting on the couch and absorbing whatever dribble the telly feeds you, it's hard to summon the willpower to improve your long term perspectives.

Similarly (though I don't mean to equate the two scenarios), if you're a privileged software engineer who makes 6 figures, it's hard to summon the motivation or even detect the problem. What do you mean? What problem? I'm doing fine, and so do all the other (privileged rich) people I know.

You know what? I started out writing this to disagree with you, to place the blame squarely with a lazy and inactive citizenry. Now... I'm not so sure any more. So thanks for giving me something to think about!

> we the people are too apathetic, or too unaware, or too stupid, or too anything at all to yield our immense power

This is what has been happening: We've been too hesitant to wield our immense power, meaning we've been yielding it by default to those who are willing to use it.

(The autocorrect error here was way too apropos to pass up.)

There are still disagreements within a genuinely free society, and those are what the government exists to adjudicate.

We The People do have the power, but to exercise it in one's preferred direction, one needs to get most of the People to agree on the same direction and priorities. That is not easy to do, regardless of how self-evident the benefits of a particular policy direction might appear to oneself individually.

It isn't reasonable to think that an online petition site created by a presidential administration will directly result in passed legislation without the involvement of Congress.

Publicizing the issue and getting an official favorable response from the President is not actually nothing.

I'm curious what you propose as an alternative, which will allow one individual among several hundred million to feel as if they are politically empowered even when the majority of the country completely disagrees with them, meaning that in reality they have no influence.

Or is the point that special people (you?) should be empowered more than others?

Just the opposite. What I'm suggesting is that it's better to recognize the lack of agency we have than to reproduce processes which give us a false sense of agency.

I think for a given case that may be true. That is, for case 'A' where the WH agrees but the other branches disagree, then it will seem as if it's a false sense of power (a placebo mechanism). However, just because this is true in some cases does not preclude there being case 'B' where the WH agrees and the other branches agree, in which case one would have exerted influence.

I think people do understand that not all their wishes can come true and that there are others whose wishes are the exact opposite (with respect to rules and.

So long as the process is predictable and somewhat transparent, then I think people's expectations will be reasonable.

So the argument here is: detractors say petitions are inefficient since no matter what happens with it nothing changes. But we say - look! WH responded! True, nothing changed, but you couldn't expect anything to change from a mere petition! So you were wrong to say nothing would change!

Somehow this argument does not sound convincing. Yes, one shouldn't expect too much from a mere petition - but that's what was said from the very beginning!

As for president's apparent inability to change laws - give me a break. He's the leader of the major US party who just won the elections, he controls the Senate, he has wide range of supporters in the press, he can successfully solicit billions in donations - and he's absolutely powerless to do any effort towards fixing this little thing? Somehow I have hard time believing it.

You need to understand that nothing could change. The White House has responded that they are on our side. Obama is not a tsar: he can't go in and change the law. So to detractors, I say: You turned the key in the ignition and the car started. You still have to drive the damn thing to get where you need to be.

He can't go in and change the law by himself. He can go in and initiate the process that would lead to the change in the law - and he successfully did it many times for things that matter to him, like raising taxes. When we see that happening, then we could say something changed. But before that it's just words, and politicians are professionals in telling people what they want to hear, it costs them nothing.

>>>> You still have to drive the damn thing to get where you need to be.

Driving the car is not done by internet petitions, though. That's the whole point - having WH say something on some page worth nothing, they did it many times on many issues, and they can keep doing what they did before regardless, and renege on all promises, and people would just say "oh, we can't expect too much from them - they're just the President and the ruling party, who could expect they could actually do anything?" If they can't - who can?

Actually, he can issue an executive order with the same language used by the Library of Congress, but he chose not to do so.

I'm curious though, under what authority is the Librarian of Congress allowed to modify the DMCA exclusion list?

This exemption process is part of the DMCA. The Copyright Office's rulemaking statement begins with several pages answering your question: http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2012/2012-26308_PI.pdf

And http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Ac... has a quick explanation:

> In addition to the safe harbors and exemptions the statute explicitly provides, 17 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1) requires that the Librarian of Congress issue exemptions from the prohibition against circumvention of access-control technology. Exemptions are granted when it is shown that access-control technology has had a substantial adverse effect on the ability of people to make non-infringing uses of copyrighted works.

> The exemption rules are revised every three years. Exemption proposals are submitted by the public to the Registrar of Copyrights, and after a process of hearings and public comments, the final rule is recommended by the Registrar and issued by the Librarian. Exemptions expire after three years and must be resubmitted for the next rulemaking cycle. Consequently, the exemptions issued in the prior rulemakings, in 2000, 2003 and 2006 are no longer valid.

ah, but this is not a law that needs changing, it's the Librarian's opinion that needs changing. It's a ruling, not a law. Basically, Obama just told everyone to shut up and suck a lemon. If he wanted to change it, he could call the Librarian and say "Hey, I need you to change something for me", or just publish an executive order - change it or get on my kill list.

He could change it, but he's not interested enough to change it.

> As for president's apparent inability to change laws - give me a break. He's the leader of the major US party who just won the elections, he controls the Senate, he has wide range of supporters in the press, he can successfully solicit billions in donations - and he's absolutely powerless to do any effort towards fixing this little thing? Somehow I have hard time believing it.

Sure he's not powerless to change it. But it's a little issue that doesn't matter to more than a few people, so he's not going to use his time or political capital to do the legwork himself. What he's doing is giving you the thumbs-up to proceed on the issue yourself.

This statement is something you can take to your house representative and go: "look, the President supports this!" You can petition the FCC to exert pressure. You can get some of those 100,000 people who signed the petition to call their Congress-people. And you can tell them, "hey, the President has gone on the record as supporting this.". To a Congress-person it suggests that it might be worth someone's time to draft up a bill and score some easy points. It gives you something to build a coalition around. That's huge.

I believe step 4 is something like Jed Bartlet's response to Ted Marcus in the West Wing episode "20 Hours in LA" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc77OgcrSW8).

The president is a human starting gun. If Obama made a press release saying "We will fix this," it _instantly_ becomes a major part of the national dialog. Putting out a positive response saying "we support this and want to make it happen" is a weaker form of that. It puts it in articles, newspapers, on the minds of the FCC, the Library of Congress, Representatives and Senators.

Getting legislation changed is (and probably should be) a _huge_ hurdle. Step 1 is to put the problem in front of people that have the power to make changes. This does that in a big way.

I think you're accepting B without giving it enough thought.

Very few wireless carrier issues are legislated by congress - that falls on the regulator, the FCC. If you want to let customers switch carriers that's who will make it happen. If the president told Genachowski to make it happen for real, it's very likely he would. At worst it would end up on terms on upcoming wireless auctions, but that wouldn't be too bad given that they're going in to converged networks.

If someone tells you to go to congress to get a bill passed to amend the DMCA they may not hate you but they're certainly not helping you. Anything altering the DMCA will attract amendments like crazy, and anything anti-carrier will get tons of lobbyist attention. And then even if you win you've still left me with a phone that the existing people who are perfectly happy to break the law and unlock your phones for a fee have no idea how to unlock - so I'll still be tied to my carrier anyway.

> B. that the executive branch has any position to change laws.

I am so glad that someone actually said this! We used to understand that the president's primary job was command-in-chief of the armed services and to represent the strength of our nation, in a diplomatic way of course. More recently people think that the president is the commander-in-chief of the legislature. WTF. That is not his primary job. He can veto and try to enforce law, but not legislate.

> merits of this process

I can't really imagine a more effective outcome in any representative democracy of 300 million people where 99% of them don't give a shit about your "right" to tinker with your cell phone.

They don't have identical outcomes at all - but your expected outcome timeline sounds like it is unrealistic.

Changing laws (generally) takes years.

The White House response is now the lead article on the home page of the Wall Street Journal. This petition has elevated the issue to a mainstream discussion in a way it was not previously. I think most skeptics would have to agree that type of response certainly constitutes a win. Short of a referendum (which is not possible here), what else could you be hoping for?


Honest question: what do you think they should have said that they didn't? (Keeping in mind that the Librarian of Congress doesn't work for the Whitehouse)

To offer at least one answer to my own question: "The White House only supports unlocking when consumers have fulfilled their contractual obligations. It’s silent on whether it supports a consumer’s decision to unlock their phone in the middle of their contract."


Wow this is an awesome step and please keep us appraised of how things are going or if more help is needed. It is this kind of optimism that demands changes from the government.

Sometimes it takes the people speaking up about an issue for the government to get a sense of what the people want.

Now for anyone else tho is on here call your congressmen and senators! They really do care what you think and about the public opinion even above what lobbyists have to say.

Sinak, good job on raising the issue, and getting the White House, the Library of Congress and the FCC to all respond. This is a win for democracy. You must feel great today.

For those getting all worked up about how it is still illegal to unlock cell phones, think of it like this. The DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent/crack software security - period. You phone is locked by software. Up til January, there was an exemption for phones. Now there's not. The problem isn't "unlocking phones". The problem is "you can't alter something expensive you've bought and paid for in full".

In a way this is good. Regular people will get pissed at the carrier for not unlocking their phone at the end of their contract. And suddenly regular people will see how bad the DMCA is. The DMA targets not just Movie Pirates.

Petitions do absolutely work, but not how you think. They aren't for convincing the people they're directed at. They're for mobilizing the people who signed them and deepening their commitment to the cause. Signing your name to a statement has an effect on your self perception which causes you to act in a way that is consistent with the statement.

Signing a petition to the White House and having the White House respond "we agree with you" does not mean that you convinced them. It means they agree with you.

Nice petition, but it didn't go far enough. Why should locking phones be legal at all?

Why should it be illegal?

We really, really, really don't want government interference in voluntary private contracts.

Cell phone companies get a government granted monopoly on a public resource (spectrum). The cell phone industry wouldn't exist as it is without government interference.

But there is nothing inherent in offering cell phone service as far as locking phones. That's a totally separate issue. I assure you that you could buy an unlocked phone (at full retail) and use it on a network of your choice with an appropriate SIM card.

You just don't get the telco to pay for 2/3rds of your phone when you do that.

They pay 2/3 of the phone for your contract, which has nothing to do with locking or you using someone else's sim card.

This isn't really about cell phones, it's about copyright and how copyright laws apply to physical devices that you own. The fact that the devices in question happen to use public airwaves is incidental. IMHO, I should be able to hack my WiFi-only iPad and my XBox without risking criminal prosecution.

Cell phone locking has absolutely nothing to do with copyright. It is absurd that copyright law applies to unlocking/locking a cell phone.

It doesn't have anything to do with copyright, nor is it illegal. Someone started a rumour and people keep repeating it ad nauseam.

Are you saying that there is usually no government interference in private contracts? Or that there should be no government interference just when the consumers rights are being violated?

Largely, yes, and that is as it should be. It's an agreement between two willing parties with benefit received by both sides. A simple, legal, contract.

We're not talking about a legislated monopoly here, like your local power company. No one is FORCING you to go down to your local Verizon reseller and buy a contract phone. You're free to either buy an unlocked smartphone (at full un-subsidized price), or a prepaid phone, or any other of a multitude of options.

I'm with you that you could by a non-subsidized phone. However, one of the points of the petition is that unlocking is currently illegal _even after the original contract has expired_. Why should that be allowed? The original contract is over, after all. No party should have any rights beyond the contract they've agree upon.

Although this is true (and silly), AT&T (at least) will unlock the phone for you after contract expiration. If this is true of other carriers, then the issue is largely irrelevant.

I agree that after the contract expires it should be fare game.

Is it illegal as in criminal? Or civil, and you could be sued?

It's a felony, with a fine of up to $500,000 and up to five years in prison. For unlocking one (1) cell phone.

OK, looks like we need to look at it from another level.

Once upon a time there was a group of people. They had common interests, but it was hard and inefficient to make decisions as a large group. So a government was formed to represent the individuals in the group and to tend to their common needs.

Let's go back to the present.

So one side is a big corporation that has one voice, the other side are consumers, i.e. people that have many voices. Government (at least a properly working one) is there to represent the will of the people and to give them a single voice. I don't see anything wrong with that.

That is a gross misinterpretation of the role of government. The government exists for the common welfare, but that doesn't mean it's a consumer advocate.

P.S: I think it fair to suggest that what the majority of consumers want is the cheapest possible phone. That means locked phones on subsidies.

It's the original role and the most important one. However it has evolved into more roles, obviously.

Regarding your second point, the assumption is that the government is rational. Adult-like and not child-like.

Of course we do, especially when there is a huge imbalance of power between the parties.

> We really, really, really don't want government interference in voluntary private contracts.

I'd advise you don't click this link: http://www.fdic.gov/regulations/laws/rules/6500-100.html, it might be pretty upsetting....

In a strange twist, it's illegal in South Africa

Same reason it's not illegal to sell a closed padlock without a key.

Not quite the same thing, is it? We are comparing huge monopolistic corporations who use an anti-competitive, anti-capitalist technique with selling a primitive mechanical device that doesn't require a network to operate.

Aren't you being a bit of a blow hard here?

You can buy unlocked phones.

Right here for instance: http://store.apple.com/us/buy/home/shop_iphone/family/iphone...

You just don't get to have your cake and eat it too.

But once you have bought the closed padlock, is it illegal to try to open it?

> "I just got off the phone with the White House"

How badass did you feel writing that? I feel badass for you.

Good job. Well done.

Hah. Quite badass! Next up I'm going to get an unlocking tattoo.

Is it me or are they saying they support unlocking "as long as it's out of contract" or something?

That doesn't really move the needle, does it?

You realize the moment President Obama expresses support for this, it will die in congress or be filibustered to death?

It's also highly suspect of this administration actually supporting this - HIGHLY suspect. It goes against many things they've done to try to force more commerce and money exchanging hands.

Congratulations for demonstrating once again that it's worth trying to do something about it. It's the only alternative to taking it in the neck over and over whilst crying in bitter beer.

Just a heads up: The current headline on that site says "forom the White House" instead of "from the White House". I wouldn't have said anything, but it's a headline...

The people's champion

The White House answered an entirely different question from the one asked!

Emphasis mine:

* "And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network."

* "...neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation."

The White House response doesn't support unlocking phones, only unlocking phones after contracts are expired. Which isn't at all what the petition complains about. They evaded it entirely.

No, it's lower than that. They're pretending to agree with the petition, in the tone of their writing; but when you read the fine print, they don't. It's fucking doublespeak.

Agreed. Criminal penalties for unlocking!

Could this be more draconian? Contract law is normally covered by civil penalties. And the current administration supports it.

Tripartism [1] and neo-corporatism [2], for the win again.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripartism

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism

Usually, when you become bound by a service agreement, you get a phone at a $200 discount. The fine print generally lets you break this service agreement - for a $200 fee. I agree the "other obligation" bit is vague, and thus scary.

Obviously, the phone seller would like to nickle and dime you throughout the length of a 2 year service agreement, but when you enter a service agreement, you are entering a contract that you can break, and you are getting something for your troubles. The government should be interested in making an even playing field for the market & consumers. I don't see what's inherently wrong here.

The wrong part is thinking that imposing criminal penalties for what amounts to breach of contract is at all a reasonable outcome.

Why would you unlock a phone when you are still on your contract? That doesn't make any sense. If you switch carriers, then by definition you have just ended your contract, and you should be able to use your old phone. This is exactly what the petition is talking about.

Why would you unlock a phone when you are still on your contract?

So that you can switch telecoms when you're travelling, to avoid extortionate fees. This is one of the complaints in the petition.

Going overseas is a great example. I take my original unlocked t-mobile nexus one out of the states and am able to buy a sim and get local phone service for very inexpensive rates.

If you desperately want to leave your network but don't want to drop, e.g., €300 in one day for the privilege, you should be able to leave and continue paying off the €50/month that you've signed up to and to do what you want with the handset.

Huh? As others have said, if you are bound by a service agreement or other obligation then you won't be going to another carrier anyway. That's all they're trying to say. You're being needlessly dramatic.

Have you considered that maybe they just overlooked the inconsistency you found? Never attribute to malice what you can to ignorance.

well, someone had to have put that phrase in there deliberately. your contract is an agreement to pay the cellphone carrier a certain monthly fee for a certain number of months, with early termination fees written in, all of which you are already bound to by civil law. it should have nothing to do with phone unlocking.

There's zero chance the white house overlooked anything accidentally here. These responses are VERY carefully crafted and reviewed by dozens of lawyers and other white house staff.

Also, "We totally agree that Congress should do something about that. Not us though. We're not gonna do anything."

You realize that that's the system of government we have in the United States, right?

You realize that the Librarian of Congress serves at the pleasure of the president, right?


1. The White House thinks this is a good idea, but it is not within their powers to implement change under the current law.

2. These rules (DMCA exceptions) fall under the Library of Congress, and the White House has recommended a review of said rules.

3. The LoC has also responded and agreed to re-review these exceptions: "We also agree with the administration that the question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy and that it would benefit from review and resolution in that context." [2]

4. In an amicus-like capacity, the FCC has also responded and commented on the current regulatory regime: "From a communications policy perspective, this raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn't pass the common sense test. 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." [3]

(end summary)

The Library of Congress could choose to reinstate the unlocking exception, which they at least purport to be reviewing. Or, the FCC could step in and claim regulatory oversight and create new regulations. Neither of those actions require direct congressional intervention, and both appear to have much higher visibility as a consequence of this petition.


[1] https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/make-unlocking-cel...

[2] http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/13-041.html

[3] http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2013...

For those TL;DR'ers out there, here's a summary:

The White House understands the petition and claims to agree. However, they aren't going to do anything about it other than wait for the "legislature" to address the issue.

You might as well petition the corporate owners of the major cell. carriers, as they are probably the only ones who will do anything about this.

So you can do what I just did, write your congressional representative and include a copy of the statement from the Whitehouse. My argument was simply, this is what the people want, the executive branch agrees, its up to you guys to make it happen so please do so. I can only imagine how hard it will be to be re-elected if you were to not support such legislation when it came up in favor of one of your big donors (AT&T). Sincerely, ....

The process is slow, but it is pretty durable. I've got both the petition and the Whitehouse response in my notebook, and we're in an 'off' year but next year we'll put a bunch of new candidates up for congress, this will come out again as a test to see if they did what was demanded or not. So the stage is set assuming we use the tools given us :-)

> its up to you guys to make it happen so please do so. I can only imagine how hard it will be to be re-elected if you were to not support such legislation when it came up in favor of one of your big donors (AT&T).

It isn't in favor of AT&T. At all. Having platform lock in means after they sell you a device they can price gouge you indefinitely and since you probably bought the device outright since you aren't on a 2 year contract and thus have the option to change carriers, you probably don't want to just ditch it immediately.

Platform lock in is good for device manufacturers, carriers, and business, but bad for consumer freedom, choice, and market competitiveness. And there is no multi-billion dollar lobby for the the latter.

AT&T has been a large donor in the past to various PACs and congressional races where the candidate favored not giving the end user choices. In my correspondence with my representatives I often go to OpenSecrets.org and look up who has been funding the person I'm writing like this: https://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N000...

It helps to know who they got money from, because if I ask them to take a stand that their donors won't like, that is where the counter argument will come from. Sometimes you can cut that off before it happens by going to the donors site(s) and looking for white papers or position statements that outline their arguments for what it is they believe.

ChuckMcM is agreeing with you AFAICT --- it's "not supporting X in favour of AT&T" i.e. preferring AT&T over the people.

Funny with the quotes around legislature.

The executive branch of gov't cannot make laws. It's that simple. But if they needed to somehow override something without waiting for Congress, there are vehicles like Executive Orders. But they are more like exceptions and statements of policy, and still not substitutes for legislation.

Either way, the ideal solution here IS for congress to draft legislation. That is the only solution that'll be permanent, long term, and clearer to discuss (or dismiss) in courts.

In no way shape or form, is this AT ALL an urgent matter that they have to address by doing an Executive Order. As much as I'd love to have my iPhone unlocked, it ranks near to the bottom of what I'd like the President to focus his energy on, especially when signing Executive Orders that are supposed to actually carry weight.

If we want Obama to sign an executive order, then we must present a case as to why this is so urgent that it can't wait for Congress to draft legislation.

This is the best we could've hoped for, without really wishing that Obama was a dictator that could wave his hands and invent laws overnight.

Edit: I for one fully support what ChuckMcM says - at this point, we should contact our congressmen and tell them this is important to us, and that we want to see legislation drafted sooner rather than later.

To be fair though, isn't that how the US government is supposed to work? It's not like the President can just arbitrarily change laws.

Yes, and a large amount of people who propose petitions on change.org seem to not understand this.

Um, that hasn't stopped the past few administrations from doing exactly that.

Or the current one... Or at least the current regime's attempts to use executive orders to ignore the legislative process. Par for the course.

You do know that the executive branch doesn't actually write laws, right? By the definitions of the U.S. Constitution, the "legislature" in fact is required to write laws that can address the issue.

The Executive branch can influence or request actions of Congress, and it sounds like they're trying to do just that. But they don't have a magic sword that can cut through bureaucracy, which it seems that many people are criticizing them for not having. :/

If it wants to, an administration can work through friendly Members of Congress to get a piece of legislation it wants into the hopper. The White House (or some cabinet agency) writes the bill and passes it to a friendly member; the friendly member introduces it under their own name; then they work together to whip up co-sponsors.

What this response indicates is that the Administration agrees with the petitioners on this issue, but not strongly enough to spend any political capital on it. Working the Hill in this fashion requires calling in favors, and a favor called in on cell phone locking is a favor that can't be called in on some other issue.

And this is an okay practice in your eyes?

This is pretty much the outcome of every single petition on the whitehouse site.

-Someone requests some completely common sense thing happen. -Thing interferes with huge company making lots of money. -Whitehouse says something like "while we agree with you, we wont do anything to help, cheers!".

Cool, thanks representatives of the people?

> Cool, thanks representatives of the people?

Congress represents the people. The Executive branch carries out the law enacted by the representatives of the people.

The leader of the Executive branch is really the most input people get into the Executive branch (and even what we have now is much more representative of a popular vote than what the Constitution's framers had originally intended).

Or you might want to take "DR" less literally and actually read the statement and realize that changing unlocking rules doesn't require legislative intervention. The Library of Congress oversees the designation of DMCA exceptions, and the specific act in question was the non-renewal of an existing unlocking exemption. The LoC stated today (as part of a coordinated response to the petition) that this set of exemptions will be re-reviewed: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/13-041.html

It's extra funny because this White House doesn't actually meet with the legislature. I think they had something like a 9-minute meeting with the Speaker of the House during the whole sequester-deadline rigamarole -- and that mostly as a token gesture after they were getting called out for not meeting with the legislature.

Obligatory Disclaimer: No comment is herein offered on the merits of the positions of the Republican Speaker of the House or the Democrat President with regards to the recent sequester-deadline rigamarole.

What can they do about it besides try to get Congress to change the law?

As a Brit, I'm pretty stunned by the efficacy of the We The People Platform here. Good work democracy.

Hold that thought. If something actually happens, then I as a citizen of the USA will tentatively join you in your shock and awe. It would almost certainly be the first time something tangible and beneficial came from this.

The experienced cynic in me also says it would probably be the last time, as it would be a clear symbol to our many lobbies that this platform is a serious threat to their continued profit glut.

A statement of policy by the White House is something tangible and beneficial. It might not seem like much, but it is. During the SOPA fight the White House did nothing more, but it went a long way toward changing the tone of that conversation in Washington.

The UK version has a much worse design:


Responses are guaranteed after 10k signatures, which is a bit more achievable than the (current) 100k in the US. If they get to 100k then they have to be debated in parliament.

Highest number of signatures is for saving badgers. Which seems very English :)


Started by (now Dr) Brian May.

Or to give him his full title: Doctor Brian May, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

it may or may not work in the short term but there's nothing like an outside perspective to make you appreciate what you have. its true that the legislative branch has to pass this, but at the very least the political climate changes (slightly, around this issue after a public statement) and the people involved feel empowered which both have at least the potential to recreate the situation

as an American, I'm glad that we are at least able to get an official response from the White House, but deeply pessimistic about their ability to deliver on the policies they claim to support. this isn't really a win for democracy. its a win for a mass communications platform but it has no real impact on getting shit done. congress is a mess and we're no closer to a solution.

What's this fuss about petitions? Last time I checked, the form of government in the US was a republic, that is the offices of government are appointed by and derive their legitimacy from the people as a whole.

We as a people should not have to petition the White House to grow sense and pass sensible laws, in the way one petitions a monarch. This is the wrong way of combating the laws that come out of Congress thanks to lobbyist influence. It encourages the wrong mindset.

Its in the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Not sure what you're going for here. The literal definition of "petition" is not what's intended there and having the right to ask nicely doesn't mean the government is required to implement something else that allows this; the primary means is through electing and speaking with officials.

And that doesn't work either.

[edit: As pointed out below, my use of "literal" here is not as intended; by "literal definition" I was attempting to say "relevant definition" in the sense of the mechanism used by the We the People website.]

Actually, while I am not a Constitutional scholar, I believe that the literal definition of "petition" is precisely what is meant by that section of the First Amendment. The Founders knew what petitions were and how they intended them to function when sent to the government. The proof of that is that back in 1774 the Continental Congress sent a petition [1] to King George III (well, theoretically to him, but in practice to the two Houses of Parliament) requesting that a set of laws they disliked be repealed. This was about 15 years before the Bill of Rights was approved by Congress [2], so one can assume that people were still aware of it.

The analogy isn't perfect since the US doesn't have the same system of government and so petitions to the US government can't go to quite the same party or parties, but it's bizarre to claim without evidence that the plain sense of the word as used then and now isn't what's meant. The fact that the President is making it easier to gather signatures for a petition doesn't change the fact that they're requests to the government initiated by citizens, for the redress of grievances.

(Now if you are a Constitutional scholar, as say the current President is, I'd love to hear an argument as to why the straightforward meaning is wrong. Any such response would likely cite various Supreme Court decisions from the last 200+ years.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petition_to_the_King [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights

I believe I stated my post poorly. I should have said the relevant definition of "petition." It more generally means to request. Regardless, it's my uninformed impression that "petition" here isn't used in the specific sense of being enjoined by a number of people.

You're certainly correct that they are petitions, though a petition in this sense matches petition in the general sense, as a request regardless of format.

I definitely am not a Constitutional scholar, though, and I appreciate the informative response.

The first amendment reference to "petition" has nothing to do with the form of the request. It's all about the RIGHT to complain about the government itself and to request a solution from it without reprisal.

This is the wrong way of combating the laws that come out of Congress thanks to lobbyist influence. It encourages the wrong mindset.

I agree with this and I think you are being downvoted unfairly.

The "wrong mindset" is one in which you complain to the President/White House/Executive Branch any time "the government" does something you disagree with. The scope of what they can change when it comes to domestic law is very small.

When "the government" does something you don't like, the far better person to petition is your Congressman and Congress as a whole, the branch of government which passed this law (and all laws) in the first place.

You're correct that they cannot do much to change domestic law. I'm glad to see some sensible commentary here.

On the other hand within this mindset what they can do is put pressure on other bodies. In this case it's pretty clear they are putting pressure on both the Library of Congress and the FCC. If either of those bodies take a step in the direction we want then it would be a much quicker process than going through the entirety of passing a bill through to being a law.

Something a lot of people seem to be passing is that bills are typically large behemoths when they go through the entire process. They can be sweeping an powerful but due to the process of committees they go through there are often unforeseen items tacked onto the bills in an effort to further various platforms (be they legitimate, pork, or lobbied).

I personally really appreciate the route the White House seems to be taking with this as it would prevent the muss and fuss of the entirety of Congress while potentially making for a quick and reasonable change.

To the contrary, the right to petition the government is one of the key points in the Declaration of Independence and is boldly enshrined within the first amendment to the US constitution (without which the Constitution would not have been adopted).

"...neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation."

Right. This is a solved problem. We have contracts for a reason: to establish and enforce obligations. Get rid of these ridiculous locks. Either that or harden them and get rid of contracts.

The Obama administration isn't perfect. (What administration is?) However they do seem to understand society's generational lag in understanding technology. They understand that the generation in charge is out of touch and so will unknowingly perpetrate heinous rules interfering with the way the society of people in their 20's actually use and understand technology.

Then again, maybe it's just because Obama is a smartphone user. (Is he still using a Blackberry?)

my response to their response (sent via the "what did you think form")

I don't think you adequately addressed the larger issues raised by DMCA. Cell phones and tablet carrier locking is only one of the anti-consumer anti-user results of the law.

Not being able to install a different OS without illegal procedures such as "rooting" and "cracking" the device remain an outstanding issue for all ARM based devices. This limits competition and unfairly privledges the position of the device manufacturer over the user.

A device is a physical item. It is not rented it is sold. One should have full control over their own devices. Today, sadly, we (the people of the USA) are subject to an over-reaching law which prevents us from legally using our devices to their fullest potential.

As witnessed in the recent volatility of the tablet and smart phone market, commericial players come and go frequently. When they leave, they leave their customers stranded. With out a legal means to change the OS of their devices they are left with insecure outdated software which puts them, their employers and their family at risk.

Please consider expanding your approach to include a full range of consumer protections.

This is a promising response, although one part is of (possibly unfounded) concern:

"And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network."

This makes it sound like unlocking a phone while you are still on contract would not be excepted.

And I see no problem with that. If you're on contract, your cell provider gave you your phone for free (or at a very steep discount) in exchange for your agreeing to use it exclusively with them for the next 1-2 years. Having the phone locked to only work on their network is part of that agreement.

Don't like that part of the agreement? Don't sign it, and pay the full price for the phone.

Why should the law protect loss leader strategies? My local supermarket does not get some special legal protection for its loss leader strategy with milk and eggs. What makes cell phone companies worthy of this special protection of their business, which puts independent cell phone stores at a substantial disadvantage?

The contract issue is mostly orthogonal to unlocking the phone - most contracts that give you a reduced price have a clause allowing you to cancel early, with a penalty cost that loosely approximates the subsidy that went towards your phone. The problem is that even if you wanted to pay this penalty, the DMCA makes it illegal to unlock your phone.

Except that you might want to unlock your phone even without canceling your contract. Maybe you want service from two cell providers simultaneously for some reason. Why should the DMCA stop you from doing that?

We are in agreement. Orthogonal means the two issues (unlocking being legal under DMCA vs unlocking being prohibited by contract in exchange for a free phone) should be treated separately.

Some reason like traveling overseas.

Aren't airlines providing cheap tickets at a discount rate but with extra restrictions (no baggage, etc.)? Or discounted tickets that cannot be turned back, even when you are sick? I mean, if you don't like that, by an unsubsidized phone. I don't see the special treatment of the cell phone companies.

The difference is that the airline is selling you the right to sit on their airplane; the right to store your baggage on their airplane is another matter. In the case of the cell phone, your service contract is what gives you the right to use their network, and they are selling you a phone to use on that network.

The special treatment is the DMCA, which forbids you from unlocking your phone regardless of the contract. This gives the cell companies an advantage by protecting a loss leader strategy: it is less risky for them to sell you a phone at a large discount which is locked, because it is illegal for you to unlock it whether or not you are under contract. It would be as if an airline sold you a discount ticket, and the law forbade you from having another company carry your luggage.

The difference is that if I choose to fly on a different airline I dont go to jail.

However, even if I continue to pay my monthly bill, as required by the contract, but I unlock my phone so I can use it in Europe, I am guilty of a felony.

A loss-leader strategy would be if the cell company was actually selling the phones at these discounted prices; they are not. They're only offered as a bundle with a contract.

> This makes it sound like unlocking a phone while you are still on contract would not be excepted.

I don't have a problem with that. The phone's essentially lease-to-own at that point.

As soon as the subsidy is paid - via monthly contracts or early termination fees - it should be unlockable.

> This makes it sound like unlocking a phone while you are still on contract would not be excepted.

You don't really own the phone until the contract that got you the phone is terminated. They agree to buy your phone for you if you agree to n-months of service.

This misinformation is not true and appears to be widespread. You purchase a phone at a reduced price and agree to sign a 12/24 mos. contract with a carrier. If you stop paying your bill, the carrier can sue for non-payment and ETF, but that does not have anything to do with the device. The phone is yours. There is no lien on the device.

"You don't really own the phone until the contract that got you the phone is terminated."

...then why do you wind up paying sales tax on it?

The same reason you pay sales tax on a car you finance. Just because you are paying for the phone over 2 years does not mean that you get to defer sales tax.

(1) You can sell a car you financed to someone else, even if they buy their gas from a different gas station.

(2) You are not taking out a loan on the phone. You are paying a discounted price for it in exchange for signing a contract for service. You bought the phone when you paid the sales tax.

> (1) You can sell a car you financed to someone else, even if they buy their gas from a different gas station.

Yes, but you must pay off your loan (the early termination fee) first and then you own the car and can sell it (i.e. as Obama suggested, after your contract ends).

OK, but you are ignoring the second point: the cell phone company is not issuing a loan to you, they are selling the phone to you at a discount. It is a loss leader strategy, not a financing program.

Meaning you'll have to opt out of your contract (and pay early termination fees) prior to unlocking. At which point, you will have paid for your device in full. I think this is completely reasonable.

That is a matter of contract law. If you are no longer obligated by the contract you agreed to, then there should be no barriers to unlocking.

Why should there be any barriers while you are on contract? What if someone wants to use their phone one two different networks for some reason, swapping SIM cards occasionally (OK, I cannot come up with a reason why, but that does not mean no such reason exists)? If you are paying for your service, what's the problem?

swapping SIM cards occasionally (OK, I cannot come up with a reason why

Because if you travel, your contract provider will charge you extortionate fees. It's one of the ways they nickle-and-dime. You can get cheaper plans from foreign telecoms.

I agree with the skeptics that the petition was not a sufficient condition to affect change. However, I do not believe the petition starter ever claimed that the petition would be sufficient.

I also agree with the petition starter that the petition might prove to be a necessary condition to affect the change. It is too early to tell, but this is a good start.

I don't agree with anyone that claims that since a petition is not sufficient, it's a waste of time. That's just lazy fatalism.

Heck, even lobbyists start with conversations that don't go anywhere. The trick is what happens next, that might not have happened if not for the initial conversation.

The other day I downloaded a new programming framework and spent 30 minutes learning it, but it didn't turn into an award-winning website product. So clearly those 30 minutes were a waste of time I guess.

On a different note... After reading the library of Congress response to the White House response here http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/13-041.html I'm not sure what their actual response is.

I think they're saying something like this: "We did our job as prescribed by the law - we went through an extensive public comment and hearing process, and we produced an exemption that interpreted the available legal arguments as fairly as possible. Even if it would be nice to make unlocking legal, we only have the power to interpret existing laws; changing the laws is up to the rest of you."

Read: Nothing will come of this. President Obama also said he would veto CISPA, close Guantanamo Bay, curb ICE, pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, end indefinite detention, defend labor rights, stop hiring former lobbyists in the White House, end the practice of recess appointments, oppose FISA, and end the use of drones to assassinate terrorists, among many other blatant lies.

When I train our employees to respond to customer support issues, I always make sure that in every response they do as much as possible to "drive an issue to a close". Not every issue can be fixed, but at the very least we can give the user a clear understanding of a) precisely what the state of affairs is and why, b) whether or not we can fix it and why, c) if we can fix it, who's responsible for the fix and when it's likely to make it into mainline and d) if we can't fix it, what the workaround is.

We never ever just say "we agree with you". It's always "we agree with you, and here's how Bob is going to fix this by March". I know that the political machine is much more complicated then a startup of 12, but they don't even try. After having read the whole thing, I'm left with no more understanding of where things are going than I did before I read it.

The political process doesn't work like a business. If you're the CEO and something Bob knows how to do needs doing, you just order him to do it.

None of the entities with the legal authority to fix this problem work directly for the president. He cannot fire them because he doesn't like how they're doing their jobs, nor can they fire him for that reason.

There is one, and only one person with the unilateral legal authority to fix the unlocking ban. His name is James Hadley Billington.

So the white house is saying they're going to do nothing...

It is sad how irrelevant "We the people" really is. It gives people an illusion that the government actually cares. The response to this petition is essentially "we agree with you and we will work towards ... {bullshit here}." I signed a few of the petitions to see what would happen, but I think I am going to stop now as it's just a waste of time; a trap, nicely put in place by the administration. The only way petitions would matter if they led to real actions, but it would be suicidal on the part of the government to try and intervene with telecom companies; wouldn't be very helpful for the next election, that's all. Oh... sigh.

How do you propose democracy deals with situations like this? I would be wary of asking for more direct democracy without studying those places and times that had this and looking into how that turned out.

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