It was only six months ago that the White House officially went on record saying that they thought cell phone unlocking should be legalized. The statement was issued in response to a 114,000+ signature petition, which rightfully argued that if you have paid off a device on-contract, it should belong to you, full-stop.
The Obama Administration said flat-out they agreed… which is why it’s distressing to find out that they may have been misleading us. In fact, while telling the American public that it supported laws to make cell phone unlocking legal, it appears that the Obama Administration has secretly been working against it.
Over at Slate, they have discovered a draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty in the latest Wikileaks data dump, which would make the technology required for unlocking cell phones illegal by international law.
It would ban numerous other technologies that have beneficial uses. In particular, the legislation would ensure that jailbreaking—which is installing a different operating system on your phone, tablet, or e-reader—is illegal. It’s already on precarious ground in the United States, but under TPP it would be illegal in all circumstances.
One important thing to note here is that this treaty is still being negotiated, and the Obama Administration may not be aware that it is acting inconsistently: Washington has a dim understanding of how technology works at the best of times (look at the HealthCare.gov debacle), and it’s possible that this is an example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
Either way, though, if you believe that your iPhone should belong to you when you’ve paid off your contract, now is the time to speak up. If this law goes into effect, carriers are going to own your smartphones and tablets for the rest of time.