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White House Backs Unlocking Phones--but It's Still Not Legal

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The White House said it thinks consumers should have the right to unlock their smartphones.

(Read More: White House: Cell Phone Unlocking Should Be Legal )

The announcement came in response to a petition posted on the White House website titled "We the People," in which thousands of iPhone and Android users called for the Library of Congress to change its position on the legality of unlocking smartphones. Unlocking a phone means that a user can change carriers freely and not be required to buy a new device when switching network providers

(Read More: Google Controls Too Much of China's Smartphone Sector: Ministry )

"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. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smartphones," said R. David Edelman, the White House senior adviser for the Internet, in a blog post on the "We the People" site.

Edelman said that if a consumer has paid for their mobile device, and is not tied by a service agreement or other obligation, consumers should be able to switch their Apple iPhone, Android or other mobile phone to another network.

"It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs," he said in the blog post.

Although carriers are beginning to carry more already unlocked devices, the mobile phones are usually more expensive up front or have higher fees associated with roaming and travel data packages.

(Read More: Two Things Apple Must Do to Catch Up With Samsung: Analyst )

During October of 2012, the Library of Congress decided that unlocking mobile phones should be removed from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In January, the change went into effect and it became illegal for any unlocking of a mobile device unless the carrier approved.

However, just because the Obama Administration has said that it supports the unlocking of smartphones it's still not legal to unlock a phone — but it may be soon.

The FCC is also looking into the issue and whether action is necessary by the agency, wireless providers or others, according to a statement from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

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