The Awesome Powers of the Librarian of Congress

by Reihan Salam

Recently, the Librarian of Congress decreed that it is now illegal for Americans to unlock their own smartphones. As Derek Khanna explains, this authority was granted to the Librarian of Congress under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

The DMCA was initially set up to help stop piracy. So what, you might wonder, does piracy have to do with unlocking your phone? Very little. The law made it illegal to use technology to circumvent digital protection technology. The Librarian of Congress, who has power to grant exceptions to the law, has kept seemingly harmless activities illegal. For example, a court can shut down a blog or website simply for discussing the techniques and procedures on how to back up a DVD to your home PC (and they have done so). This is remarkable considering that in the Pentagon Papers case the Supreme Court ruled that a court cannot order an injunction to prevent the release of classified documents unless under extraordinary circumstances in which the government can demonstrate “grave and irreparable danger” to the public interest. So, releasing classified documents: allowed. But discussing how to back-up DVDs and unlocking phones: illegal.

A shrewd lawmaker could gain many new admirers by backing legislation to roll back this draconian, anti-consumer measure. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.