As it Applies to Bulletin Board

Found at: 0x1bi.net:70/textfiles/file?law/entrapmtdoc.law

The Defense of Entrapment
As it Applies to Bulletin Board System Operators

By Randy B. Singer, Esq.

Copyright (C) 1992 Randy B. Singer.  All rights reserved.  This document
may be freely distributed as long as it is not for monetary gain or as
condensed, quoted, abstracted or incorporated into any other work,

For now, it is unclear how the law applies to protect speech
communicated through electronic bulletin boards.  There are hundreds,
maybe thousands, of enthusiast-run bulletin boards across the country
are providing a wonderful public service, out of the goodness of their
loss).  These sysops cannot afford to fall into a gray area of the law
and find themselves having to defend an expensive criminal suit or
confiscated by the police as evidence.

Running a public bulletin board can expose a system operator (sysop) to
all sorts of legal problems that have yet to be adequately defined.  For
nstance: What happens if one user posts slanderous/libelous information
about another user?  Is the sysop liable?  Is a bulletin board more like
a newspaper in this regard or is it more like a meeting hall?  What
never monitors the activity on it?  Is the sysop required to constantly
monitor the goings-on on their board to prevent illegal activity?

themselves legally the best that they have known how.  Unfortunately,
there has been a lot of misinformation spread about what the law is and
Hopefully this text file will clear up one of the most common legal
misconceptions that is going around.

to explain this law and its application, especially as it pertains to
electronic bulletin board operators.

Entrapment is a complete defense to a crime that a person has been
charged with.  It varies in how it is interpreted in each state, and on
the federal level, but generally it is as I have defined it here.

Entrapment only exists when the crime involved is the creative product
of the police. (That is, the idea to commit this crime came from a
to him by the police, or if the means to commit the crime had not been
offered to the alleged criminal by the police.) AND the accused was not
otherwise predisposed to commit the crime involved. (That is, the
accused probably wouldn't have committed this or any other similar crime
f the police had never been involved.)  BOTH elements must exist for
the defense of entrapment to apply.

For instance:  When John DeLorean, owner of the (then about to fail)
DeLorean Motor Company, was arrested and tried for selling cocaine, he
company made him a desperate individual.  The police sent in an
undercover officer to offer him a bag of cocaine to sell to raise money
to save his company.  The entire idea for the crime came from the

The reason for the law is obvious:  we don't want the police setting up
enough to find themselves in desperate situations.  In fact, we don't
not what we want police officers to do.

Now that you have the definition of entrapment, let's talk about what
entrapment is NOT.  I've read a lot of posts from people on boards who
think that entrapment exists when a police officer goes undercover and
the defense of entrapment per se.  The defense of entrapment does NOT
s something that the police do all the time, and there is nothing that
crime (e.g., you are already engaged in illegal activity before an
undercover police officer comes on the scene), and an undercover police
officer simply gathers evidence to convict you, the defense of
entrapment does not apply.

So, for instance, if an undercover police officer logs onto a bulletin
board and lies and says that he/she is not a police officer when asked,
and he/she finds illegal material or goings on on this bulletin board,
then whatever he/she collects and produces against the system operator
as evidence towards a criminal conviction is not precluded from being
used against the sysop in court. At least it is not excluded by the
entrapment does not apply.  The police officer is allowed to act
undercover, and the illegal acts were not the creative product of the

Also remember that the defense of entrapment is a COMPLETE defense.  So
t does not act to exclude evidence, but rather it acts towards one of
three things: having a grand jury find that there is not sufficient
evidence that a conviction could be obtained to proceed to a criminal
trial against the sysop; having the case dismissed before trial; or a
finding of 'not guilty' after a criminal trial.

The defense of entrapment also doesn't necessarily apply if the police
officer simply asks the system operator to do something illegal and he
f the police officer asks the sysop to download to him some commercial
commercial software available in the files section of the bulletin

What would probably be required for the defense of entrapment to apply
operator into doing the illegal act, and it would have had to have been
an illegal act that wasn't already going on on this bulletin board. This
MAY allow the use of the defense of entrapment.  I say "may" because it
they meet the requirements for the defense of entrapment to apply.  You
may surmise from my reticence to commit to saying that the defense of
entrapment definitely WOULD apply that the defense of entrapment is not
a defense that I recommend that you rely on.

logon screen:  "Access restricted.  Police officers must identify
themselves, and are forbidden from gaining entry to this bulletin
board."  This type of message not only does not protect a bulletin board
from the police (assuming that there is something that might be
nterpreted as illegal going on on this board), but it actually alerts
any police officer who may casually log on to this board to immediately
nothing that I know of that would keep an agent of the police from lying
about his/her status and logging on as a new user and gathering evidence
to use against the sysop.  In fact, I'm not sure, but I would not be
s enough evidence to get a search warrant to seize the computer
equipment of the system operator of this bulletin board to search for
evidence of illegal activity!

At some future date I hope to write a file that will detail how sysops
can protect themselves from legal liability. (That is, by avoiding
for the uncontrollable illegal acts of others.  I have no interest in
telling sysops how to engage in illegal acts and not get caught.)  But
for now, I hope that this file will give sysops a better understanding
of the law and how one aspect of it applies to them.

Disclaimer:  The information provided in this document is not to be
considered legal advice that you can rely upon.  This information is
must research to determine your particular legal status, exposure, and
 No warrantees, express or implied, are provided in connection with the
nformation provided in this document.  This document is provided as is,
and the reader uses the information provided here at their own risk.

(Sorry for the necessity of covering my behind!  Just remember, you get
an attorney.  Besides, just like everyone these days, we need the work!)

About the Author:  Randy B. Singer is an attorney in the San Francisco
bay area.  He does business law, personal injury, computer law, and
Macintosh consulting.  He also gives seminars at the Apple offices in
learning about the Macintosh computer.

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