Cell Phone Unlocking Debate Highlights Trade Negotiation Process Problems
Cell Phone Unlocking Debate Highlights Trade Negotiation Process Problems
Cell Phone Unlocking Debate Highlights Trade Negotiation Process Problems

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    The issue of cell phone unlocking has been hot for the past
    month.  The White House response to
    the over 100,000 person petition to allow for the unlocking of cell phones has
    led to a flurry of legislative proposals in Congress and broad interest in a
    quick solution to the issue.

    Knowledge has argued
    that this is an opportunity for Congress to do two
    things: First, make the exemption for cell phone unlocking permanent by
    including it the current statute; and second, begin a broader conversation
    about what other reforms to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) should
    be considered.  Public Knowledge
    has also made the strong argument
    that the concerns raised about free trade agreements should not stop Congress
    from doing its job: to set the policy of the United States.  The United State Trade Representative
    (USTR) can always be instructed by Congress to update our trade

    However, the concern over conflicting with free trade
    agreements highlights a larger concern about how Congress has lost control over
    parts of its role as the creator of US policy.  The United States must stop legislating through trade negotiations.
    USTR negotiations processes notoriously lack transparency and do not include
    all stakeholders. While consumers and public interest groups are often kept in
    the dark as these are negotiated, it is not uncommon for corporate stakeholders
    to have opportunity to join trade delegations for treaties and trade
    agreements.  It is no wonder that
    the intellectual property sections of our agreements do not include a process
    for updates to the exemptions list. 
    Content Industry advocates such as RIAA and MPAA would see any such
    updates as an invitation to other exemptions and broader discussions about
    reforms to the DMCA that allow consumers to other pieces of technology that
    they purchase in other legal ways the consumers want. Public Knowledge has documented this concern
    recently through the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty negotiations. Instead,
    the public is left in the dark as these agreements are negotiated and forced to
    accept them completely, or not at all.

    Even Congress itself (the public’s representatives who
    approve these treaties and trade agreements) is not
    given full access
    to the deliberations and has introduced legislation to
    demand a preview of the negotiations to ensure that they reflect the proper
    balance of intellectual property policy between the protections of the artists
    and the public interest. When industry is allowed to influence the terms of
    trade agreements without the input of Congress and other representatives of the
    public, it can lead to the imbalance in policy we now see in intellectual
    property policy.  Public Knowledge
    has also noted
    in the recent WCIT trade negotiations
    in Dubai how when the U.S. government
    sets the standard for transparency and inclusion, it breeds trust from
    important allies and potential allies in the developing world.

    When trade agreements and treaties can derail a
    simple solution that the White House, bipartisan leadership at the FCC and in
    Congress agree on, it is clear that something is wrong with our trade
    negotiation processes.  Congress
    should take the opportunity of this universal support for cell phone unlocking
    as an opportunity to reclaim its policy-making authority and enact a permanent
    exemption with instructions to the USTR to follow its lead.