EFF Defends Right to Own Smart Card Technology

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Sep 8, 2003
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For Immediate Release: Monday, January 12, 2004
EFF Defends Right to Own Smart Card Technology
Files Amicus Brief On Behalf of Public in DirecTV Appeal
Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Advisory
San Francisco--Defending the right to own and experiment with general-purpose technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a friend-of-the court brief in an Eleventh Circuit appeals case that will determine whether satellite giant DirecTV can sue "smart card" technology owner Mike Treworgy for simply possessing hardware that enables him to program electronic smart cards.

Smart cards are computer devices that have a multitude of legitimate purposes, which can also be used illegally to intercept satellite signals. DirecTV has argued that mere purchase of smart card programming hardware should constitute proof that the hardware is being used illegally.

"Computer researchers, network administrators, engineers and others are using smart card technology in ways that are perfectly legal, yet DirecTV would have the courts adopt a theory of guilt-by-purchase," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "This is not only grossly unjust, it also threatens to scare legitimate innovators away from an extremely promising branch of technology."

In the lower court ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Steele agreed to dismiss DirecTV's possession claim in its lawsuit against Mr. Treworgy, finding that the company does not have the authority to decide who can legally own the technology. DirecTV appealed, making this case the first such dispute in the country to reach the appellate court level.

"DirecTV is threatening innocent researchers, hobbyists and others who have never intercepted a single minute of DirecTV's transmissions," added Schultz. "This cannot be what the law intends, and we hope the Eleventh Circuit will send a strong message to that effect."

DirecTV has sent over 150,000 letters demanding settlements of $3,500 and up from individuals who purchased smart card technology. The company has followed this up with over 15,000 lawsuits claiming that mere possession of these devices is unlawful. As a result, those caught in DirecTV's dragnet have been forced to choose between paying for a lawyer and paying for a settlement.

In response to the lawsuits, EFF has partnered with Stanford's Center for Internet and Society to establish DirecTVdefense.org, a website aimed at helping innocent people defend their right to own and use smart card technology
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