Despite more than a century of history, “radio communication” now has a new definition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Google Inc. is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike it down. Google says the new definition criminalizes watching television, while the Ninth Circuit concluded that Google’s read of the law would convert the federal Wiretap Act into a license to steal people’s private communications.

The case illustrates the analytical contortions involved in applying old laws to new technologies. Here, the “old” law is a 1986 amendment to the Wiretap Act enacted specifically to address the new technologies of the day, which now already are antiquated. Left standing, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling would wreak havoc in the information technology and communications industries, with devastating ripple effects throughout our economy.

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