The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against satellite television provider DirecTV by ruling that an exception must be made for security and computer science research that is conducted on satellite and smart card technology.
The cases involved a provision of federal law that prohibits the "assembly" or "modification" of equipment designed to intercept satellite signals. DirecTV had filed legal action against hundreds of thousands of individuals and prosecuted them for illegally intercepting its satellite television signal because they had used smart card technology. Since there are legal smart card technology uses and DirecTV did not make a distinction between legal and illegal usage, two of the individuals sued by DirecTV appealed the heavy handed legal tactics used by DirecTV.
DirecTV’s claim maintained that the federal law prohibition should apply to anyone working with equipment that is designed to intercept their signals, regardless of their intent or whether any actual interception occurred. Arguments were made on behalf of the individuals by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit foundation interested in protecting individual freedoms in electronic media under First Amendment and other Constitutional guarantees.
EFF put forth the argument that the federal law should apply only to entities that make illegal interception possible by other people and should not apply to those who are merely curious about the equipment or are investigating its use for scientific purposes.
To read the full opinion from the 9th Circuit here.
Get more info on the case at the EFF web site here.