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.

The Daily Show defends 'manspreading'

“Manspreading”: The defining male rights movement of our generation!

Nancy Grace battles Dr. Drew on pot

Oh, Nancy. Just weeks after gracing the internet with her marijuana debate with 2 Chainz, she's served up another delightful bit of TV: her appalled reaction to discovering that fellow HLN star Dr. Drew is on the 2 Chainz side of this argument.

Stewart: 'Drones love Obama'
Jon Stewart couldn’t stop laughing about the drone found at the White House early Monday morning. A small drone crashed on the White House lawn around 3 a.m. and after several hours in lockdown, Secret Service determined that it did not pose a threat. “Of course it didn’t pose a threat. Drones love Obama. He’s like a one […]
Jonathan Gruber raps to MIT students

If you’ve been dying to see Jonathan Gruber, who credited the “stupidity of the American voter” with passing Obamacare, strip down to his undershirt and rap about economics, today is your lucky day!

Stewart mocks the Iowa Freedom Summit

Jon Stewart’s coverage of the Iowa Freedom Summit is about what you would expect—starting with his description the event: “A lot of Republicans who will never be president met this weekend,” for the “Fox News correspondent auditions.”

White House

White House: Scrapped 529 plan will still be in budget because it has already been sent to the printers
That awkward moment when even the President of the United States can’t get a print shop to make a small change for him… Just one day after the White House announced that it had caved to political pressure and would not be taxing the 529 college savings plan,  officials also had to admit that this […]
VP Biden appears on ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ to get ask young people to sign up for Obamacare
With three weeks to go until the Obamacare deadline to purchase insurance, the Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to encourage young people to sign up.  The renewed push included a stop by Vice President Joe Biden on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Monday so he could appeal to moms who are good at […]
Small drone crashes at White House complex, origin unclear
WASHINGTON (AP) — A small drone flying at low altitude crashed into the White House complex before dawn Monday, the Secret Service said. President Barack Obama was not at home and the White House said it did not pose a security threat. The crash prompted an immediate lockdown of the White House grounds until officials […]
WH chief of staff blurts out previously-concealed name of American hostage on live TV

All in a day's work at the White House: sometimes you keep ISIS hostage names a secret, sometimes you let them slip in an in interview on national TV.

7 Times Obama was ‘Partisan,’ Not ‘Practical’ during his State of the Union address
Near the beginning of his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama promised to be “practical, not partisan” in his proposals to Congress. However, his speech ended up being anything but. From cracking jokes to outright veto threats, it was clear that the president had no interest in bipartisanship. So we decided to […]

Congress

Rubio wants permanent NSA spying law

For Senator Marco Rubio (R- Fla.) reauthorizing government spying isn't quite enough--he wants to permanently enshrine it in law.

Cornyn to Lynch:'You're not Eric Holder, are you?'
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) bluntly asked the only question that seemed to be on every Republican’s mind Wednesday at Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing to be the next attorney general. “You’re not Eric Holder, are you?” Cornyn asked. “No, I’m not,” Lynch replied. “I will be myself. I will be Loretta Lynch [if confirmed.]“   Cornyn said […]
Cruz bill would punish IRS targeting with jailtime

Ted Cruz wants IRS employees guilty of targeting to be the ones forking over their money, this time -- and that's at the very least.

CNN interviews Rand Paul on Snapchat

CNN made digital history this week, conducting the first-ever full interview with a lawmaker over Snapchat by snapping with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

Boehner and McConnell critique SOTU

“Dead. Real dead.” That was House Speaker John Boehner’s verdict on President Obama’s tax proposals--and nearly every proposal from his State of the Union address, with the exception of cybersecurity, fighting ISIS, trade, and possibly the childcare tax credit.