EFFector Vol. 13, No. 2 Mar. 1, 2000 firstname.lastname@example.org
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation ISSN 1062-9424
IN THE 150th ISSUE OF EFFECTOR (now with over 23,000 subscribers!):
* 10th Anniversary of USSS Raid on Steve Jackson Games & Illuminati
+ Links to More Information
* Call for Nominations: The Ninth Annual International EFF Pioneer
+ The Year 2000 Awards
+ How to Nominate Someone
+ Past Pioneers of the Electronic Frontier
+ About EFF
For more information on EFF activities & alerts: http://www.eff.org
Landmark case established limits to police power in Cyberspace
On March 1, 1990, the United States Secret Service (USSS) nearly
destroyed Steve Jackson Games (SJG), an award-winning publisher of
roleplaying games in Austin, Texas.
Today marks ten years to the day since that fateful search and seizure
operation, which led to one of the most important precedent-setting
lawsuits in online history, the Electronic Frontier Foundation-backed
case of Steve Jackson Games, et al. v. US Secret Service.
"I'm very glad to see that the EFF is still here with us and and
fighting the good fight. Back in 1990, [EFF co-founders] Mitch Kapor
and John Perry Barlow said that this new organization would be in it
for the long haul. After ten years, I think we can see that this's
true," remarked Steve Jackson on the anniversary of the infamous raid.
"The EFF is a permanent part of the civil liberties landscape.
Technology is changing faster than ever, bringing new opportunities,
but new hazards to freedom and fairness as well. It's good to know the
EFF will always be here when it's needed."
In an early morning raid with an unlawful and unconstitutional
warrant, agents of the USSS conducted a search of the SJG office. They
seized and removed, all in all, 3 computers, 5 hard disks and more
than 300 floppies of software and data, and a book manuscript being
prepared for publication. Among this equipment was the hardware and
software of the SJG-operated Illuminati BBS (bulletin board system).
The BBS served as a small-scale online service for gamers to
participate in online discussions and to supply customer feedback to
SJG. The BBS (today, the Internet service provide Illuminati Online)
was also the repository of private electronic mail belonging to
several of its users. This private e-mail was seized in the raid.
Yet Jackson, his business, and his BBS's users were not only innocent
of any crime, but never suspects in the first place. The raid had been
staged on the unfounded (and later proven false) suspicion that
somewhere in Jackson's office there "might be" a document allegedly
compromising the security of the 911 telephone system.
The Secret Service did not return the equipment, though legally
required to do so and requested to do so many times, until sometime in
the end of June of that year. When the equipment was returned more
than three months after the raid, it became clear that someone at the
USSS inspecting the disks had read and DELETED all of the 162
electronic mail messages contained on the BBS at the time of the raid.
Not one of the users of the BBS was even under investigation by the
Secret Service, and many of the messages had never even been read by
their intended recipients.
In the months that followed the raid, Jackson saw the business he had
built up over many years dragged to the edge of bankruptcy. SJG was a
successful and prestigious publisher of books and other materials used
in adventure role-playing games. Jackson had to layoff nearly half of
his work force. Publication of at least one of his gaming books was
delayed, resulting in loss of revenues to the company. He was written
up in Business Week magazine as being a computer criminal. Jackson
decided to fight back.
On May 1, 1991, Steve Jackson, the Steve Jackson Games company, and
three users of the Illuminati BBS, with the help of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, filed a civil suit against the United States
Secret Service and some indivdually named agents thereof, alleging
that the search warrant used during the raid was insufficient, since
Steve Jackson Games was a publisher (publishers enjoy special
protection under the Privacy Protection Act [PPA] of 1980), and that
the protections against improper surveillance in the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) had been violated with regard to the
electronic mail on the system.
ECPA consists of a series of amendments to the federal Wiretap Act. It
prohibits law enforcement officers from intentionally intercepting,
using and/or disclosing the contents of private electronic
communications without a warrant. The statute offers similar privacy
protection for communications that are stored "incidental to the
electronic transmission thereof" (e.g. on the hard drive of a BBS).
The users of the Illuminati board claimed that their unread e-mail
required a warrant specifically describing the messages to be
searched. The Secret Service claimed that no special warrant was
required under ECPA - in essence asking the court for license to go on
uncontrolled "fishing expeditions" through citizens' private
communications, in violation of Fourth Amendment principles. The court
sided with Jackson and the other plaintiffs, berating USSS Agent Tim
Foley - on the witness stand - for 15 minutes straight.
According to Mike Godwin, EFF Senior Policy Fellow, "the Steve Jackson
Games case was the first case to underscore the intersection between
civil liberties and the Internet. Our victory in that case sent a
signal to the law-enforcement community that the days of unregulated
searches and seizures of computers, and shut-downs of online
publishers, were over."
The judge's official decision was announced on March 12, 1993.
District Judge Sam Sparks awarded more than $50,000 in damages to
Steve Jackson Games, citing lost profits and violations of the PPA. In
addition, the judge awarded each BBS-user plaintiff $1,000 under the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act for the USSS seizure of their
stored electronic mail. The judge also ruled that plaintiffs would be
reimbursed for their attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs filed an appeal,
seeking to hold the USSS liable for "interception" in addition to
"seizure" of the e-mail, on the grounds that e-mail still "in transit"
if it has not yet been received by its recipients. This clarifying
appeal was not successful, as the appellate court held, on a
technicality, that "in transit" essentially means only "in transit,
momentarily, across communication wires", not "in transit, by whatever
medium, between sender and recipient". But the case remains a victory,
establishing that at the very least, "stored" e-mail cannot be seized,
examined or destroyed with impunity by law enforcement officers, and
affirming, by clarifying the meaning of "in transit", that e-mail
cannot be eavesdropped upon by police as it is being transmitted from
system to system without a proper warrant.
"It's hard to imagine, but the raid on Steve Jackson Games took place
years before the World Wide Web even existed. Ten years may not seem
like much, but it's an eternity in 'Internet time' The SJG case is
still cited as the seminal precedent explaining the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act. It was exciting being a part of it,"
commented Shari Steele, then Director of Legal Services at EFF when
the SJG case came to its conclusion. (Steele is presently Co-Director
of the allied nonproft organization Digital Bridges).
Godwin added: "The most important factors in our success in the case
were Steve Jackson's courage and determination, the resolve of Mitch
Kapor and other EFF backers to go the distance, and a excellent and
committed legal team."
Representing the plaintiffs in this suit were Harvey A. Silverglate
and Sharon L. Beckman of Silverglate & Good (Boston, MA); Eric
Lieberman and Nick Poser of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky &
Lieberman (New York, NY); and James George, Jr. of Graves, Dougherty,
Hearon & Moody (Austin, TX).
Links to More Information
Steve Jackson Games: http://www.sjgames.com
Illuminati Online: http://www.io.com
The Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org
EFF's SJG Case Archive: http://www.eff.org/pub/Legal/Cases/SJG
US Secret Service: http://www.treas.gov/usss/
Seeking Pioneers of the Electronic Frontier
Call for Nominations:
The Ninth Annual International EFF Pioneer Awards
Please redistribute this notice in appropriate fora.
In every field of human endeavor, there are those dedicated to
expanding knowledge, freedom, efficiency, and utility. Many of today's
brightest innovators are working along the electronic frontier. To
recognize these leaders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation
established the Pioneer Awards for deserving individuals and
The Pioneer Awards are international and nominations are open to all.
The deadline for nominations this year is March 15, 2000 (see
nomination criteria and instructions below).
The Year 2000 Awards
The Ninth Annual EFF Pioneer Awards will be presented in Toronto,
Canada, at the 10th Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (see
http://www.cfp2000.org). The ceremony will be held on the evening of
April 6, 2000. All nominations will be reviewed by a panel of judges
chaired by Dave Farber, FCC Chief Technologist and long time EFF
Boardmember, and chosen for their knowledge of the technical, legal,
and social issues associated with information technology.
This year's EFF Pioneer Awards judges are:
* Herb Brody (Senior Editor, Technology Review)
* Dave Farber (Chief Technologist, FCC; Boardmember, EFF)
* Moira Gunn (Host, "Tech Nation", NPR)
* Larry Irving (CEO, UrbanMagic.com)
* Tara Lemmey (Executive Director, EFF)
* Peter G. Neumann (Principal Scientist, SRI Intl. Computer Science
Lab; Moderator, ACM Risks Forum)
* Susan H. Nycum (Partner, Baker & McKenzie)
* Drazen Pantic (NYU Center for War, Peace, & the News Media)
* Barbara Simons (President, ACM)
How to Nominate Someone
There are no specific categories for the EFF Pioneer Awards, but the
following guidelines apply:
1. The nominees must have made a substantial contribution to the
health, growth, accessibility, or freedom of computer-based
2. The contribution may be technical, social, economic, or cultural.
3. Nominations may be of individuals, systems, or organizations in
the private or public sectors.
4. Nominations are open to all, and you may nominate more than one
recipient. You may nominate yourself or your organization.
5. All nominations, to be valid, must contain your reasons, however
brief, for nominating the individual or organization, along with a
means of contacting the nominee, and your own contact number.
Anonymous nominations will be allowed, but we prefer to be able to
contact the nominating parties in the event that we need further
6. Every person or organization, with the exception of EFF staff and
board members, is eligible for an EFF Pioneer Award.
7. Persons or representatives of organizations receiving an EFF
Pioneer Award will be invited to attend the ceremony at the
You may send as many nominations as you wish, but please use one
e-mail per nomination. Submit all entries to: email@example.com
Just tell us:
1. The name of the nominee;
2. The phone number or e-mail address at which the nominee can be
reached; and, most importantly,
3. Why you feel the nominee deserves the award;
You may attach supporting documentation in Microsoft Word or other
standard binary formats.
Past Pioneers of the Electronic Frontier
1992: Douglas C. Engelbart, Robert Kahn, Jim Warren, Tom Jennings, and
Andrzej Smereczynski; 1993: Paul Baran, Vinton Cerf, Ward Christensen,
Dave Hughes and the USENET software developers, represented by the
software's originators Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis; 1994: Ivan
Sutherland, Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, Murray Turoff and
Starr Roxanne Hiltz, Lee Felsenstein, Bill Atkinson, and the WELL;
1995: Philip Zimmermann, Anita Borg, and Willis Ware; 1996: Robert
Metcalfe, Peter Neumann, Shabbir Safdar and Matthew Blaze; 1997: Marc
Rotenberg, Johan "Julf" Helsingius, and (special honorees) Hedy Lamarr
and George Antheil; 1998: Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, and
Barbara Simons; 1999: Jon Postel, Drazen Pantic, and Simon Davies.
See http://www.eff.org/awards for further information.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org) is a global
nonprofit organization linking technical architectures with legal
frameworks to support the rights of individuals in an open society.
Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges industry and
government to support free expression, privacy, and openness in the
information society. EFF is a member-supported organization and
maintains one of the most-linked-to Web sites in the world.
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