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U.S. v. SHRIVER

February 4, 1992

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEPHEN L. SHRIVER, JOSEPH R. DENMAN, HARRY LAWRENCE DALY, AND JOSEPH D. FONES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

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.

Defendants move to dismiss the superseding indictment, which charges them with conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. § 2511-12, 1343 and 47 U.S.C. § 605 for allegedly selling modified satellite television descramblers which the Government asserts were primarily useful for the purpose of surreptitious interception of wire, oral or electronic communications.

I. FACTS

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.

II. ANALYSIS

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
  electronic communications;
    (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 ...

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