FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 13, 2002

CONTACT:
Megan E. Gray
EPIC Senior Counsel
202-483-1140 x119
gray@epic.org

CIVIL LIBERTIES AND CONSUMER GROUPS FILE AMICUS BRIEF TO PREVENT COURT-ORDERED SURVEILLANCE OF TELEVISION USERS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and a coalition of civil liberties and consumer groups today asked a federal court to overrule a decision mandating enforced surveillance of ReplayTV 4000 television users. Two weeks ago, numerous television studios persuaded a judge to issue an order requiring SONICblue to monitor and record the TV uses of its customers.

The ReplayTV 4000, sold by SONICblue Inc., is a personal video recorder (PVR) that allows users to store television programming to hard disks for later viewing. The PVR also allows users to pause, fast forward, and skip commercials. SONICblue has never collected viewing data from ReplayTV 4000 users, assuring users that their privacy “is a right, not a privilege.”

Television studios had sued SONICblue on various theories of copyright infringement. As part of that lawsuit, the television studios made the unprecedented demand that SONICblue reengineer its product to collect evidence for the studios to use at trial, and for the studios to file lawsuits against individual television viewers. Specifically, the television studios asked the magistrate judge overseeing discovery disputes to order SONICblue to remotely install on its customers’ PVRs certain software that will monitor and record all PVR usage and to do so without notice to the consumer or his consent.

On April 26, 2002, a magistrate judge in the Central District of California granted the television studios’ request. On May 10, 2002, SONICblue filed with the lead judge objections to that order, asking it to be reversed. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), Consumer Action, Media Access Project (MAP), Public Knowledge, and The Privacy Foundation filed an amicus brief, joining SONICblue in those objections.

In the amicus brief, the civil liberties and consumer groups argue that the court order infringes on individuals’ privacy rights and intellectual freedom. According to Megan E. Gray, Senior Counsel at EPIC, “A person’s home is one of the most sacred of private places - the studios have no right to intrude there to collect data for their own purposes without the individual’s consent.” The compelled surveillance also invades intellectual freedom – “People will be chilled from watching certain programs, whether unpopular, controversial, or sexually explicit - if they knew that an electronic record would be created, in perpetuity, about their viewing choices,” says Gray.

The amicus brief is available online at www.epic.org.

EPIC maintains a webpage on Digital Rights Management and its implications for privacy at http://www.epic.org/privacy/drm.

EPIC is a public-interest center that was established to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and other constitutional values.