Press Releases issued at end of SJ Games v. Secret Service

PRESS RELEASE March 15, 1993 - For Immediate Release


Steve Jackson Games and its co-plaintiffs - Steve Jackson himself and three users of the Illuminati Bulletin Board - have won their lawsuit against the US Secret Service. The decision was announced late Friday, March 12.

Federal judge Sam Sparks ruled for SJ Games on the PPA (Privacy Protection Act), saying that the publisher's work product was unlawfully seized and held. Under the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act), he ruled that the Secret Service had unlawfully read, disclosed and erased the messages - despite their repeated denials that they had done any such thing. On a separate ECPA count, he ruled for the defendants, saying that taking the computer out the door was not an "interception" of the messages on it within the meaning of the law.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sponsored the suit, hailed the decision as "groundbreaking." According to Mike Godwin, legal services counsel for the EFF, "This case should send a message to law-enforcement groups everywhere that they can't ignore the rights of those who communicate by computer."

The judge awarded damages of $1,000 per plaintiff under the ECPA, for a total of $5,000. Under the PPA, he awarded SJ Games $42,259 for lost profits in 1990, and out-of-pocket costs of $8,781. The plaintiff's attorneys are also entitled to costs, an amount which will be well in excess of $200,000.

The Justice Department has not stated whether it will appeal. Sparks' opinion was quite critical of the Secret Service's behavior, before, during and after their raid, calling the affidavit and warrant preparation "simply sloppy and not carefully done."

Commented Steve Jackson: "I'm overjoyed, and a little numb. We stood up to them and we won. It was never a sure thing . . . legally, this is all new ground. We won because what the Secret Service did to us was totally outrageous, and because our lawyers did a great job of penetrating their cover-up and bringing out all the facts.

"I'm more grateful than I can say to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for making the suit possible. And since the government will have to pay our legal costs, the EFF will get their money back, to fight the next case!

"And if I've gained any notoriety from all this mess, I want to use it to work for changes in the law, to stop this kind of abuse forever."

The EFF press release:


A games publisher has won a lawsuit against the U.S. Secret Service and the federal government in a groundbreaking case involving computer publications and electronic-mail privacy.

In a decision announced Friday, March 12, Judge Sparks of the federal district court for the Western District of Texas announced that the case of Steve Jackson Games et al. versus the U.S. Secret Service and the United States Government has been decided for the plaintiffs.

Judge Sparks awarded more than $50,000 in damages to the plaintiffs, citing lost profits for Steve Jackson Games, violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and violations of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980. The judge also stated that plaintiffs would be reimbursed for their attorneys' fees.

The judge did not find that Secret Service agents had "intercepted" the electronic communications that were captured when agents seized the Illuminati BBS in an early-morning raid in spring of 1990 as part of a computer-crime investigation. The judge did find, however, that the ECPA had been violated by the agents' seizure of stored electronic communications on the system.

Judge Sparks also found that the Secret Service had violated Steve Jackson Games's rights as a publisher under the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, a federal law designed to limit the ability of law-enforcement agents to engage in searches and seizures of publishers.

Mike Godwin, legal services counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has underwritten and supported the case since it was filed in 1991, said he is pleased with the decision. "This case is a major step forward in protecting the rights of those who use computers to send private mail to each other or who use computers to create and disseminate publications."

"Judge Sparks has made it eminently clear that the Secret Service acted irresponsibly," Godwin said. "This case should send a message to law-enforcement groups everywhere that they can't ignore the rights of those who communicate by computer."

Press can contact Mike Godwin at 617-576-4510, or by pager at 1-800-SKYPAGE, 595-0535.