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Smart Card Research Threatened in DirecTV Case
EFF Fights Heavy-Handed Tactics From Satellite TV Giant
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Clinic at Stanford University Law School filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday, asking judges to protect legitimate researchers from the heavy-handed tactics of the DirecTV Group, Inc., a worldwide provider of digital television entertainment, broadband satellite networks and services, and global video and data broadcasting.
Federal law makes it illegal to intercept satellite TV signals without authorization and also bans modifying or assembling interception tools for sale or distribution. In the case before the Ninth Circuit, DirecTV claims that it can sue individuals for both interception of its signal as well as modification of receiving equipment in cases where altered smart cards are simply inserted into standard television equipment. DirecTV claims that inserting a smart card into preexisting television equipment constitutes "assembling" a pirate device. The amicus brief claims that DirecTV is overreaching and also points out that legitimate security researchers would be threatened under the proposed misreading of the law. A lower court has already ruled that DirecTV cannot sue on this theory and dismissed DirecTV's attempt to "double-dip" by punishing individuals twice for a single offense.
"Researchers are constantly assembling, modifying, and building smart card components in furtherance of scientific knowledge and innovation," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Congress clearly meant to exclude these beneficial activities from any legal liability. The court below understood this, and we hope the Appeals Court agrees."
Over the past few years, DirecTV has orchestrated a nationwide legal campaign against hundreds of thousands of individuals, claiming that they were illegally intercepting its satellite TV signal. The company began its crusade by raiding smart card device distributors to obtain their customer lists, then sent over 170,000 demand letters to customers and eventually filed more than 24,000 federal lawsuits against them. Because DirecTV made little effort to distinguish legal uses of smart card technology from illegal ones, EFF and the Cyberlaw Clinic received hundreds of calls and emails from panicked device purchasers. We worked with DirecTV to get them to limit their lawsuits to only those people they could prove were illegally receiving their signal. The two groups co-sponsor a website at http://www.directvdefense.org to help people defend themselves.
For the full brief filed in the case:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society Cyber Law Clinic