"The Most Ridiculous Law of 2013"

Kevin Glass

1/28/2013 9:56:00 PM - Kevin Glass
Over the weekend, it became illegal to unlock and freely use one of the most important pieces of technology you own: your cell phone. A repercussion of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is that it's up to the Library of Congress to determine what parts of copyright law are exempt. And until Saturday, Americans were allowed to do what they pleased with their phones.

Not anymore.

Bureaucrats at the Library of Congress intentionally allowed this provision of the onerous DMCA to lapse, preventing Americans from using technology that they buy as they intend to. Derek Khanna over at The Atlantic details why conservatives should be afraid:

Conservatives should be leading the discussion on fixing this problem. Conservatives are understandably skeptical of agencies and unelected bureaucrats wielding a large amount of power to regulate, and are proponents of solutions like the REINS Act (which has over 121 co-sponsors). However, if Congress truly wants to rein in the power of unelected bureaucrats, then they must first write laws in a narrow manner and avoid the need for intervention by the Librarian of Congress to avoid draconian consequences, such as making iPhone jail-breakers and smartphone un-lockers criminals, or taking away readable books for the blind.

If conservatives are concerned of unelected bureaucrats deciding upon regulations which could have financial consequences for businesses, then they should be more worried about unelected bureaucrats deciding upon what is or isn't a felony punishable by large fines and jail time for our citizens. And really, why should unelected bureaucrats decide what technological choices you can make with your smartphone? These laws serve to protect the interests of a few companies and create and maintain barriers to entry.

But there is another matter of critical importance: Laws that can place people in jail should be passed by Congress, not by the decree of the Librarian of Congress. We have no way to hold the Librarian of Congress accountable for wildly unfair laws. There are still plenty of crazy laws passed by elected officials, but at least we can then vote them out of office.

What's more, it's possible that this new "crime" could be punishable by up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. It might be a little unlikely that that would happen, but that's the result of what happens when laws are poorly-written, vague, and largely misunderstood by both legislators and regulators. The DMCA is exactly one of those laws - and it's just become a lot more dangerous because of it.