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In response to a lawsuit filed by a slew of heavyweight entertainment companies, a federal magistrate has ordered Sonicblue to monitor customers' activities to find out what TV programming they record, duplicate or send to others--a situation the company says is tantamount to forced spying.

"We're being ordered to spy on our customers; that's the most direct way of looking at it," said Ken Potashner, chief executive of the digital video recorder company.

Privacy advocates were also concerned.

"A fair analogy would be for record companies to be allowed to force Microsoft to use Outlook to look for MP3 files that were being sent as attachments," said David Martin, a principal investigator at the Privacy Foundation.

Central District Court Magistrate Charles F. Eick last week ordered the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company to determine "what works are copied, stored, viewed with commercials omitted, or distributed" and to turn that information over to the entertainment companies. The San Jose Mercury News first reported the order Friday.

Disney, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said Sonicblue is "completely misleading (the) characterization of the court's order."

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