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DirecTV 'commandos' raid 11 businesses in six states

Tue, 12/11/2001 - 7:00pm
Anne Kerven

Talk about revenge of the … well, nerds. DirecTV's official-sounding signal-integrity and legal commandos raided 11 businesses in six states. Not intimidating enough? The DirecTV special forces squad also included law enforcement — and engineers. Watch out.

DirecTV says the raids stem from a continued investigation after it executed a few civil seizures in May against three Orange County locations that recovered "thousands of signal theft devices by DirecTV."

"They're civil seizures," says DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer. "We're able to do that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act." DirecTV intends to file a lawsuit against the alleged thieves, but criminal prosecution is up to local, state or federal authorities, he says.

He also did not know if any criminal charges had been filed, "but we can make certain recommendations. It's their call. Our intention is to put them out of business," he says.

Mercer adds that the company has no dollar figure of the amount of contraband seized, and tallying one will take a long time.

"There's just an awful lot of stuff," he says. "You're talking about thousands of these devices we have to count and assess the street value of."

The company also alleges two manufacturing companies located in Chicago and Southern California made signal theft devices sold by three suspects from the original raid, who also operated eight of the most recently raided distribution centers, DirecTV says.

The company also launched civil seizure action against the home and warehouse of an El Paso-based suspect, who DirecTV's signal integrity "officials" allege is a seller of signal theft devices over the Internet.

DirecTV says it has amended its April civil complaint for the May cases to include 49 "defendants" and landed a grant from a federal judge to freeze nearly $250,000 in assets.

Mercer says the new law allows the company to conduct the raids with a search warrant but without warning.

The company's signal integrity unit is staffed by former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, he says, who also take along local law enforcement on the raids "to maintain order."

Separately, the company also has been continuing to use "electronic countermeasures" toward illegally modified cards. DirecTV sends out a series of codes through its system to all receivers. "When they hit illegal cards, they tell them to turn off or kill themselves," Mercer says. "The final code, the coup de grace" puts up a screen telling viewers their screen access card has expired. Instead of scrambling the chip on the access card, it destroys the card, he says.

DirecTV sent the signals a week prior to the Super Bowl and "tens of thousands of screens across America went blank," Mercer says. "In the hacker world it came to be known as Black Sunday. It ruined the World Championship wrestling and ruined Super Bowl parties."

Mercer says many more raids could occur; the company impounded business records with customer names, whom also will be pursued.

Mercer says he personally hasn't been on a raid, but notes, "I want to do that one of these days."

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