Senate Bill Could Legalize Cellphone Unlocking Again

Pat Leahy Vermont cellphone unlocking
U.S. Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) talks to reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Reuters

Unlocking your cellphone to move to another mobile carrier may soon become legal again. A bill passed by the Senate Tuesday night restores a rule exemption by the Librarian of Congress that previously allowed mobile phone users to unlock their devices in the United States without violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

Cellphone unlocking in the United States was legal from 2006 to 2012 thanks to the DMCA exemption; it became illegal again in 2013 after the DMCA exemption expired.

“I applaud the Senate for so quickly passing the bipartisan Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which puts consumers first and promotes competition in the wireless phone marketplace,” said Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who introduced the bill. “With the Senate’s swift action last night, just days after the Judiciary Committee approved the measure, I hope the House will soon take up and pass our bill so that consumers will be able to use their existing cell phones on the wireless carrier of their choice.”

A similar bill regarding cellphone unlocking was passed in the House of Representatives in February, but was criticized for a clause that would prevent the bulk unlocking of cellphones.

The legislation passed by the Senate is free of the bulk unlocking clause; it now returns to the House for further consideration. Read the full text of S. 517 here.

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