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

In a decision announced in Austin, Texas, on March 12, Judge Sam 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.

The plaintiffs, which include Steve Jackson, the company he founded, and 
three users of the company's bulletin board system (BBS), sued the 
government on claims that their statutory rights to electronic mail privacy 
had been violated when the BBS and other computers, disks and printouts 
were seized by the Secret Service as part of a computer crime investigation.
These rights are protected under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act 
(ECPA), which extended most of the protections of the federal Wiretap
Act ("Title III") to electronic mail.

Jackson and his company also claimed violations of the Privacy Protection Act 
of 1980, a federal law designed to limit searches of publishers in order to 
protect their First Amendment rights.

Mitch Kapor, founder and chairman of the board for the Electronic Frontier 
Foundation, the public interest/civil liberties organization that has 
underwritten and supported the case since it was filed in 1991, said he is 
pleased with the decision.  "This decision vindicates our position that users 
of computer bulletin board systems are engaging in Constitutionally protected 
speech," Kapor said .

"This decision shows that perseverance pays off," he added.  "We've been at 
this for almost three years now, and we still don't know if it's over -- the
Justice Department might appeal it."  Nevertheless, Kapor said he is 
optimistic about the case's ultimate outcome.

Judge Sparks awarded more than $50,000 in damages to Steve Jackson Games, 
citing lost profits and violations of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.  
In addition, the judge awarded each plaintiff $1,000 under the Electronic 
Communications Privacy Act for the Secret Service seizure of their stored 
electronic mail.  The judge also stated that plaintiffs would be reimbursed
for their attorneys's 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 the spring of 1990 as part of a 
computer crime investigation.  The judge did find, however, that the ECPA 
had been violated by the agents's seizure of stored electronic communications
on the system.

The case was tried in Austin, Texas, by the Austin-based media law firm 
George, Donaldson & Ford, with case assistance provided by the Boston, 
Massachusetts, law firm of Silverglate & Good.

Pete Kennedy, the lawyer from George, Donaldson & Ford who litigated the 
case, calls the decision "a solid first step toward recognizing that 
computer communications should be as well-protected as telephone 
communications."  Kennedy also said he believes the case has particular 
significance for those who use computers to prepare and distribute 
publications.  "There is a strong indication from the judge's decision
that the medium of publication is irrelevant," he said, adding that 
"electronic publishers have the same protections against law enforcement 
intrusions as traditional publishers like newspapers and magazines.  All 
publishers that use computers should be heartened by this decision.  It 
indicates that the works-in-progress of all types of publications are 
protected under the Privacy Protection Act.

"The case also demonstrates that there are limits on the kinds of defenses 
law enforcement agents can use, Kennedy said, noting that "the judge made 
it very clear that it is no excuse that the seizure of draft material for 
publication held on a computer was incidental or accidental."

Mike Godwin, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has 
worked on the case since 1990, said he is pleased with the scope of 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."

Press contact:  Mike Godwin
Work:  617-576-4510
Pager:  1-800-SKYPAGE, 595-0535