Librarian of Congress criminalizes unlocked cell phones

Effective last week, the Librarian of Congress officially criminalized the unlocking of new cell phones, with fines for one-time offenders reaching as high as $500,000 in addition to up to five years in prison.

Unlocking cell phones so that they can be used on different carriers’ networks was a fairly common practice that presented a variety of potential benefits to consumers. As of January 31, a White House petition to rescind the decision has more than 46,000 signatures.

So how did an unelected bureaucrat (the nation’s top librarian) appointed to his position more than 25 years ago, end up with the power to criminalize what has until recently been a common activity?

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which outlaws technologies that bypass copyright protections, the Librarian of Congress is directed to issue exemptions to law. The exemptions are only good for three years, and interestingly, the unlocking of new cell phones was previously exempted in both 2006 and 2010.

Although it’s one of the more absurd examples in recent memory, the Library of Congress isn’t the only federal agency issuing pseudo-legislation that affects millions of Americans without any input from their elected representatives in Congress.

In 2011, a controversial mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services required that private health insurance plans cover contraception, even for nonprofit groups that opposed contraception for religious reasons (you may recall that GOP support for a religious exception to the mandate was ridiculously labeled a “war on women”). Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules that effectively banned new coal-burning power plants.

Aside from being patently undemocratic, permitting librarians and other bureaucrats to exercise such wide-sweeping legislative authority also reduces transparency in government. This was supposed to be the “most transparent administration in history” after all.

Wireless carriers have been fighting for years to remove the DMCA exception for phone unlocking. How much influence might cellular companies like AT&T and Verizon have had in the chief librarian’s phone unlocking decision? It’s difficult to tell, but both companies are ranked as “heavy hitters” for lobbying and political contributions by the government transparency group opensecrets.org – AT&T was the tenth ranked lobbyist in the country in 2012.

Constituents also know how to lobby their elected officials and follow developments in Congress, but they are generally clueless about how to participate in complex agency rule-making processes. The Librarian of Congress formally announced his prohibition on phone unlocking back in October 2012, but most Americans didn’t even notice the rule-making until three-months after the decision was already made. Federal agencies are making enormously influential decisions on behalf of Americans and most people don’t even know it!

Government by librarian – it doesn’t get any more absurd than that.

Comments

Comments

  1. mark says:

    This is beyond absurd! Once again, why should anyone have faith in any large corporation? They continue to wrench every last penny out of us using nods and winks and although legal, is never in the best interest of the consumer. Government by librarian… Pathetic.

  2. dvid says:

    What kind I say. Oops to us for allowing people in government to make this decision. Let’s fire them all and start over.

Polititainment

Stewart and Colbert go after 'Fangate'

Both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a field day with “Fangate” Thursday night.

O'Reilly v Stewart on 'white privilege'

Jon Stewart had one goal in bringing Bill O’Reilly on his show Tuesday evening: "I want you to admit that there is such a thing as white privilege."

Galifianakis gives Obama a nickname
Zach Galifianakis once came up with a very special nickname for President Obama, he recounted on “The Daily Show” Tuesday night. It all started when Galifianakis came to the White House to film the Emmy-winning “Between Two Ferns” episode to promote Obamacare. “Before we went to interview the president, I ate in the White House […]
Stewart covers atrocious Dem candidate

In New York’s 11th Congressional district, Democrats need to defeat Rep. Michael G. Grimm, who is facing 20 federal charges and was once caught on camera threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony. So you might think this race would be a walk in the park for them—until you meet their incredibly terrible candidate.

Colbert hates the midterms

There are a lot of tedious things Colbert doesn’t like to do in the autumn, like clean the gutters and pretend to like decorative gourds.

White House

Obama names Ron Klain the Ebola ‘czar’ as precautions expand

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama turned to a trusted adviser to lead the nation's Ebola response on Friday as efforts to clamp down on any possible route of infection from three Texas cases expanded, reaching a cruise ship at sea and multiple airline flights.

Barack Obama’s credit card gets declined, leaving Michelle with the bill

Even being the president of the United States does not save you from everyone’s nightmare: the shame of having your credit card declined in public.

Christie’s daughter groans at the idea of her dad running for president

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) kids aren’t all on board with his possible run for the White House.

Obama authorizes Guard, reserve call-up for Ebola
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is authorizing the Pentagon to call up reserve and National Guard troops if they are needed to assist in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The U.S. has already committed to sending up to 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to provide logistics and help build treatment […]
Obama calls for ‘much more aggressive’ response to Ebola
WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is ramping up its response to the Ebola crisis after a second Dallas nurse became ill and it was disclosed that she had been cleared to fly a day before her diagnosis. While Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms and only two persons have been known to contract the […]

Congress

Rand Paul: W.H. hasn’t accurately described Ebola
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg politics he believes that the White House has been inaccurately depicting the risks of contracting Ebola. “I think from the very beginning they haven’t been completely forthright with us,” said Paul. “They’ve so wanted to downplay this that they really I don’t think have been very accurate in their […]
Rand Paul doesn't want to 'turnip for what'
Sorry Michelle. It doesn’t look like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants to “turnip for what.” Paul let the first lady know about his first stop in New Hampshire Thursday on Twitter. The likely presidential hopeful went from the plane to the Dunkin’ Donuts and snapped a photo. Just arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire. First stop: @DunkinDonuts cc: […]
Americans could face $15B in new internet taxes
If Senate Democrats don’t take up the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act before the end of the year, American internet users could be looking at nearly $15 billion in additional taxes, a new study found. The Internet Tax Freedom Act, passed during the 1990s, prevents state and local governments from taxing people for access to the […]
Rand Paul talks with NAACP in Ferguson
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) met with black leaders in Missouri Friday and urged them to use the “ballot box” not riots in the street to try and make a change. Paul headed to Ferguson, the location of another police shooting, for a 45-minute “listening session” with a group of 20 local black leaders, including pastors, local business […]
Congress: Stop travel between US and Ebola nations

Congress is getting vocal about the Ebola threat.