Steve Jackson Games appeals definition of e-mail "interception"; EFF and other organizations file amicus curiae brief March 11, 1994 In a move that could have significant ramifications for the proposed "information superhighway," Steve Jackson of Austin, Texas, and his company, Steve Jackson Games Incorporated -- together with three users of the company's electronic bulletin board system (BBS) -- are asking a federal appeals court to rule on how federal wiretap laws apply to electronic mail. In an appeal filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, the plaintiffs seek a ruling that a seizure of electronic mail (e-mail) before the addressee receives it qualifies as an "interception" under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The appeal follows a court victory last year for Steve Jackson Games, a small roleplaying-games book publisher in Austin, Texas. On March 1, 1990, United States Secret Service Agents seized the company's BBS and three computers containing the company's business records and all copies of an upcoming publication. On March 12, 1993, Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found that Secret Service agents involved with the raid had violated the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, which is designed to protect publishers. Steve Jackson Games was awarded $51,040 in damages under that claim. In addition, the trial judge held that the seizure of electronic mail on the company's electronic bulletin board system was a violation of the stored communications provisions of the ECPA and awarded each of the plaintiffs $1,000 in statutory damages. On a third, independent claim, however, the trial judge ruled against the plaintiffs, holding that electronic mail that had not yet been accessed by its intended recipient is not "intercepted" under the ECPA. Judge Sparks held that an interception can occur when a only communication is acquired at the same time it is occurring -- in other words, in real time as the message is actually travelling over the wires. Plaintiffs base their appeal on Congress' intention in creating separate statutory provisions for "intercepted" communications and on the plain meaning of the term "interception." "As any defensive back knows," states the plaintiffs' brief, "this is the classic definition of an 'interception,' and one comfortably within the statute's definition." Three organizations interested in electronic communications, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Society for Electronic Access and InterCon Systems Corporation, filed a friends of the court brief to support Plaintiffs' definition of "interception" under ECPA. "For purposes of intercepting the contents of an electronic mail message, the time the message actually travels through the wire between computers is a technical detail of the delivery process that should not be relevant to the law." The Justice Department has 30 days to reply.