How a Fired Hill Staffer Got the White House to Support Unlocking Cell Phones

Three months ago, Derek Khanna was fired from his Hill job. Now, he's got the White House's attention.

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Three months ago, Derek Khanna was fired from his job at the Republican Study Committee for publishing a paper advocating copyright reform that wasn't approved by his bosses and which many said differed from the party line.

This week, the stars have drastically realigned for Khanna, who got a response Tuesday from the White House on an issue he's been pushing for the last month: that people should be able to use their cell phones on whatever carriers they want without breaking the law.

Back in January, a regulation went into effect that made unlocking phones illegal. Since then, Khanna has written more than a dozen articles decrying the law, reached out to members of Congress asking for help, pestered tech organizations to get onboard, drawn the support of groups like the National College Republicans, and started a White House petition along with fellow technology policy advocate in California Sina Khanifar that garnered more than 114,000 signatures.

On Tuesday, the White House said Khanna was right.

[READ: Six Secrets of Cell Phone Carriers]

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Cellphones may soon be able to self-destruct by dissolving.

"The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," wrote R. David Edelman, the White House's Senior Advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy. "In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. ... It's common sense."

Khanna says he was hoping the White House would respond, but wasn't expecting that level of support. "It seemed like it was a strong, full-throated endorsement," he tells Whispers. "That was a pretty surprising reversal. I haven't witnessed a reversal like this since the [Stop Online Piracy Act]."

SOPA was anti-piracy legislation that was dropped after hundreds of websites went dark in protest of the criminal penalties associated with it.

[READ: Should Cell Phones Be Subject to Search Without a Warrant?]

Hours after the White House responded to Khanna Tuesday, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said he was working on legislation to unlock mobile phones.

"It's a freedom issue. You own the phone, you should be able to unlock it," Chaffetz wrote on Twitter, and added Khanna's name at the end of his tweet.

Khanna, of course, hopes his efforts keep spreading. Last night, unbeknownst to him, a separate petition was started on the White House We the People website calling for consumers to be able to unlock e-books as well.

"I think it's the beginning of something new, something exciting," said Khanna. "But I also feel like it's the continuation of my same work. It's smart tech policies. I tried it out on the Hill, and now I'm trying it outside the system."

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