WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- The White House has responded to an online petition to make cellphone unlocking legal, saying it's time to legalize the practice.
"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 administration said.
Unlocking a cellphone to allow its use to be moved to another carrier was legal under an exemption to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, until the U.S. Copyright Office and Library of Congress refused to renew the exemption in January.
That upset many users, prompting the initiation of a White House petition that eventually passed 100,000 signatures, which required the White House to respond, ABC news reported Monday.
"The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," R. David Edelman, White House senior adviser for Internet, Innovation and Privacy, wrote on the White House Petitions Blog.
The ability to transfer a phone to another carrier or network is "crucial for protecting consumer choice" and is important in making sure America maintains its "vibrant, competitive wireless market," the White House said.
Although the White House has weighed in on the issue, it cannot directly act in the matter; that would require congressional legislation.
But experts said it was a strong first step.
"This is a game-changer, now that it has the attention of all the powers that be," Bradley Shear, a social media and technology attorney in the Washington, D.C. area, said. "It will now be a much larger conversation about this issue."