- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Customers who are concerned about the surveillance capabilities of Samsung’s smart TVs have another headache to worry about: Tampering with the machine to disable such components may be a felony.

Samsung’s privacy policy raised concerns with privacy activists who spotlighted the warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” Now there are concerns that tinkering with the software by tech-savvy customers may run afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

“Most smart TVs on the market have taken technological measures to prevent users from accessing or modifying firmware in order to prevent illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted material. But users could technically face felony charges for circumventing lockdown restrictions — even if the modifications they’re trying to make are legal under copyright law,” Slate reported Tuesday.

Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that works to make sure civil rights are upheld in the digital world, told the website that the legal framework companies are using strips customers of their rights.

“When you take away users’ ability to research or audit or modify the software that their devices are running, then they’re basically rendered powerless,” Mr. Higgins told Slate.

Samsung clarified its policy on Tuesday, saying in a statement that its smart TVs will “collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.”

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Regardless, consumers who want to alter the device to end any doubt that their conversations are being monitored still face a legal minefield.

“I’m not aware of anybody that’s actually been brought up on felony charges with regard to a TV, fortunately, but the specter is always there, as well as the chilling effect that it creates,” Bradley Kuhn, president and distinguished technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy, told Slate.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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