Petition against criminal penalties for unlocking cellphones gathers steam, as ‘Father of Internet’ lends support

Vint Cerf, commonly called the “Father of the Internet,” is throwing his support behind an effort to make unlocking cellphones legal again.

On January 26, the grace period ended on an October 2012 ruling instituted by the Librarian of Congress, which effectively made it illegal for smartphone owners to unlock on-contract devices purchased after that date and transfer them to a new mobile carrier.

The act of unlocking on-contract cellphones was previously exempt from criminal penalty under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), but now first-time offenders face a fine of up to $500,000, five years in jail, or both. Repeat offenders could face double the penalty.

A White House petition created on January 24 calling for a reversal of the decision has since gained more than 81,000 signatures – nearly 18,000 signatures shy of the 100,000 signatures required to trigger an official White House response.

“We ask that the White House ask the Librarian of Congress to rescind this decision, and failing that, champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal,” says the petition, created by OpenSignal founder Sina Khanifar.

The deadline to reach the goal is Friday.

Cerf, whose long list of accomplishments includes a recent presidential appointment to the National Science Board, published the link to his Twitter and Facebook accounts on Monday afternoon.

Derek Khanna, technology activist and former Hill staffer for the Republican Study Committee, told The Daily Caller that he has been spearheading much of the effort to bring awareness to the petition, and said that was excited to have Cerf’s support and hoped it would bring greater visibility to the issue.