Smartphone owners may unlock the devices to switch wireless carriers after service contracts expire under legislation that passed Congress today and is headed for President Barack Obama's desk. The measure reverses a 2012 ruling by the Librarian of Congress that said unlocking phones violated copyrights. Unlocking is done by entering a software code so that phones can connect to a different network. A Senate bill that would legalize unlocking passed the House without a recorded vote. That sent the measure to Obama, who said in an e-mailed statement that he looks "forward to signing this bill." Obama called the measure "another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget."
Unfortunately, Congress has chosen the narrowest possible approach to addressing the issue. Lawmakers have refused to rethink the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the law that created the problem in the first place. [...] The legislation Congress approved focuses narrowly on the cell phone unlocking issue. It wouldn't provide exemptions for other innocuous activities that are restricted by the DMCA. And it doesn't rethink the bizarre system in which the Librarian of Congress -- an unelected official most people have never heard of -- has arbitrary power to decide, every three years, how people can use a wide variety of digital devices. The public furor over cell phone unlocking was an opportunity for a long-overdue re-think of the DMCA. But Congress is blowing that opportunity, fixing the most glaring symptom of the DMCA's dysfunction without considering a broader overhaul of the DMCA.