The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:
What do a martini olive transmitter and a modified satellite
television descrambler have in common?
Fortunately, for the Defendants: nothing.
The issue in this case is whether modified satellite
television descramblers are primarily useful for the
surreptitious interception of electronic communications.
This Court concludes that they are not.
In order to thwart the unauthorized reception of signals and
to prevent owners of home satellite dishes from accessing,
without charge, programming for which cable recipients must pay
subscription fees, television programmers "scramble" the audio
and video signals being transmitted. A television descrambler
(via circuit boards and computer chips) allows the owners of
satellite dishes to receive premium programming. Ordinarily,
these devices are purchased and attached to home satellite
dishes thereby permitting the owners to view programs to which
they have subscribed. However, unscrupulous individuals have
learned to modify descramblers so that these devices can
receive premium programming without authorization or payment of
subscription fees and sell them to owners and potential buyers
of home satellite dishes who are willing to pay a high price.
Defendants are accused of conspiring to manufacture, possess
and sell modified television descramblers, for monetary
benefits; thereby defrauding the programmers of scrambled
satellite television broadcasts in violation of, inter alia,
18 U.S.C. § 2511-12.
This case boils down to the difficult and "shaky endeavor" of
statutory interpretation. Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v.
Chicago, 948 F.2d 345, 350-51 (7th Cir. 1991). 18 U.S.C. § 2510
et seq. are commonly known as the Wiretap Laws. The Wiretap
Laws were amended in 1986 and provide criminal penalties for:
(1) . . . any person who intentionally —
(a) sends through the mail, or sends or carries
in interstate or foreign commerce, any electronic,
mechanical, or other device, knowing or having
reason to know that the design of such device
renders it primarily useful for the purpose of the
surreptitious interception of wire, oral, or
(b) manufactures, assembles, possesses, or sells
any electronic, mechanical, or other device,
knowing or having reason to know that the design
of such device renders it primarily useful for the
purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire,
oral or electronic communications, and that such
device or any component thereof has been ...