In March 1990, Secret Service agents raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas, as part of Operation Sun Devil, a nationwide investigation of computer hacker activity. (See "Closing the Net," Jan.) They trashed the place, seizing computers, equipment, and records. Yet neither Jackson nor any of his employees was ever charged with a crime, and the Secret Service acknowledges that the company was not a target of the investigation.
Since then, the Secret Service has returned most of the equipment, but as of late August it had not offered restitution for damage caused during the raid. Jackson has filed suit against the service, two agents, and a U.S. attorney, charging that the search and seizures violated the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the First and Fourth amendments.
The "defendants' wrongful and unlawful conduct," the suit charges, "amounted to an assault by the government on the plaintiffs, depriving them of their property, their privacy, [and] their First Amendment rights and inflicting humiliation…upon them."
Electronic Frontier Foundation general counsel Michael Godwin, who helped prepare the suit, says that if Jackson wins, the decision may prove that an electronic bulletin board "has the same First Amendment protections as any other publisher." Godwin also hopes the courts will rule that the government has to show probable cause before moving against a bulletin board service or computer user under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Godwin says a final decision in the case may be a year or two away. No court date has been set, and Godwin predicts that the legal maneuvering "will probably work its way through '92 or '93."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Raid Reparations".