On March 1, 1990 the United States Secret Service raided the Austin, Texas offices of Steve Jackson Games citing a suspected hacker ring. The following chronology takes you through this landmark case: Steve Jackson Games v The United States Secret Service.
March 1st 1990
Armed United States Secret Service agents, local police, and a civilian phone company expert forcefully infiltrated the offices of Steve Jackson Games as well as the home of Loyd Blakenship. Their lock cutting, picking, and breaking tactics seized assets including four computers, two laser printers, hard disks, and random hardware (and, sadly, destroying two office letter openers in the process). The computers taken contained manuscripts for the GURPS Cyberpunk book as well as the Illuminati BBS.
March 2nd, 1990
Steve Jackson, accompanied by attorney, entered the Austin office of the United States Secret Service under the understanding he could copy his files. He was, however, only allowed to copy a handful of files none of which included parts of the manuscript or the Illuminati BBS. This visit also conveyed the Secret Services belief that the GURPS Cyberpunk book was in fact "a handbook for computer crime". Regardless of the fact that the fictional book was about futuristic credit card fraud using nonexistent equipment, the Secret Service repeatedly commented, "This is real".
March 3rd - March 25th, 1990
The attorney for Steve Jackson Games was assured copies of the files would be turned over on the proverbial, but never realized, tomorrow. These empty promises left Steve Jackson Games to recreate the book from backups, notes, and memories.
March 26th, 1990
A small collection of the files were returned.
June 21st, 1990
The majority of the seized Steve Jackson Games equipment was returned. Not returned assets included a hard disk, printouts of GURPS Cyberpunk, all of Mr. Blakenship's materials, and other hardware.
October 21st, 1990
Steve Jackson Games received a copy of the previously sealed warrant affidavit (sealed by the Secret Service). The contents of said affidavit boiled down to, according to SJG, "guilt by remote association" (summary stated by Steve Jackson Games and not the final opinion of this author). It seems the work done by Mr. Loyd Blakenship while writing GURPS Cyberpunk threw up red flags and simply caused SJG to be sucked into the suspicion.
The case Steve Jackson Games v The United States Secret Service came to trial funded by three years of electronic civil rights groups costing over $200,000. George, Donaldson, & Ford represented SJG led by Pete Kennedy. SJG won the case and was awarded damages in excess of $50,000 plus over a quarter million dollars in attorney fees.
Trial Day 1
As quoted by Jim George of George, Donaldson, & Ford, the goal of "This lawsuit is just to stand up and say, at the end of the 20th Century, that publishing occurs as much on computers as on the printed page." Holes were immediately punched in the Secret Service's training and handling of this case. Plaintiff attorney George proved that the Secret Service lacks in training for such a raid as stated in testimony by Special Agent Tim Foley. "No, sir. The United States Secret Service does not teach its agents about special rules regarding search and seizure at publishing companies." Furthermore the testimony revealed that the affidavit should not have extended to the properties searched and seized. No charges were ever brought against Steve Jackson Games nor Steve Jackson himself.
Trial Day 2
The majority of day 2 was concerned with the seizure of private e-mail correspondence. The breach cited stemmed from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which, the plaintiff argued, protects e-mails.
Trial Day 3
District Judge Sam Sparks closes with a statement claiming the investigation was improper and crossed legal lines in the seizure of equipment. More holes in the Secret Service investigation were revealed in the damages weighing phase including no investigation of Steve Jackson Games as well as lack of training in the Privacy Protection Act. The following fantastic transcript between the Judge and Agent Foley, as posted on Revolution, accents the Judge's outrage at the entire incident:
"How long would it have taken you, Mr. Foley, to find out what Steve Jackson Games did, what it was?" asked Sparks. "An hour? Was there any reason why, on March 2, you could not return to Steve Jackson Games a copy, in floppy disk form, of everything taken? Did you read the article in Business Week magazine where it had a picture of Steve Jackson -- a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen -- saying he was a computer crime suspect? Did it ever occur to you, Mr. Foley, that seizing this material could harm Steve Jackson economically?"
Foley replied, "No, sir," but the judge offered his own answer.
"You actually did, you just had no idea anybody would actually go out and hire a lawyer and sue you."
Steve Jackson Games continued to appeal a continued claim of interception by Secret Service Agents but was denied. The Fifth Circuit claims that walking out with a computer containing e-mail is not the same as intercepting it (just not in those words of course) citing United States v. Turk.
Furthermore, SJG made it clear in that same month there are ten facts of the entire incident and case that need to be clarified. As per their list I have condensed each fact as follows:
Sources include: Steve Jackson Games, Revolution online information database, and many public domain documents cited on the Steve Jackson Games website
- Steve Jackson Games is not a computer game company. They use the computers to write the games.
- GURPS Cyberpunk is not a computer game. It is a role-playing game.
- Steve Jackson Games is not out of business. They came close, but they survived… quite well to this date I may add.
- Steve Jackson Games was not raided by the FBI but by the United States Secret Service
- No staff members were arrested, indicted, charged, or even questioned.
- The raid was not part of Operation Sun Devil.
- The raid was not after GURPS Cyberpunk. It was simply "suspicious material" found by the U.S. Secret Service.
- There was no hacker threat to sabotage the 911 system.
- Loyd spells his name with one L.
- Steve Jackson Games is not the second largest game company in the United States.