Unlocking the iPhone or jailbreaking has for long been disputed in the US, despite the White House recently announcing its support for unlocking devices for the public. A few days ago, the Federal Communications Commission chairman sent a proposal to reform policies on iPhone unlocking with the consent of the CTIA.
Nevertheless, a recently leaked document from WikiLeaks suggests that the White House has been secretly negotiating a treaty with other countries and industry lobbyists that could render jailbreaking and other ways of using or sharing copyrighted content as illegal to be banned by international law.
Here is a brief summary of the leaked information about the US Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (TPP), courtesy of Slate:
"Last week, WikiLeaks made public a portion of a treaty that the White House has been secretly negotiating with other nations and 600 special interest lobbyists. The draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty, which is on intellectual property, shows that HealthCare.gov isn't the only tech topic on which the Obama administration has some serious explaining to do.
"...in its present state, treaty would expand copyright and effectively make real reform impossible. Worse, it would essentially disregard constitutional limitations on copyright and reject pillars like fair use, the first-sale doctrine, and having copyright be for "limited times." The worst part: While the White House was publicly proclaiming its support of cellphone unlocking, it was secretly negotiating a treaty that would ban it."
Contrary to the Librarian of Congress ruling to make unlocking a punishable offence with jail term of up to five years or a $500,000 fine, a recent White House rule promised to make unlocking legal again. Following the petition signed by over 114,000 people, the White House had made a U-turn and accepted the request to legalise device unlocking in the US.
On the contrary, the leaked document pertaining to the reported international treaty actually aims to ban jailbreaking and unlocking worldwide. Here is what the report on Slate says:
"The leaked treaty draft shows that while the White House was championing restoring free market principles to phones, the U.S. proposed that the TPP lock in the process that allowed the Librarian of Congress to rule this technology as illegal through international law.
"But the TPP draft doesn't stop there. 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."
As the treaty is still under negotiation, several policy issues could be addressed in the final draft. Given the secrecy over the negotiations and contradictions arising out of the White House's change in stance, it is still unclear if there will be an exception for jailbreaking or unlocking an iOS device for personal use.