Scientology's Internet Wars



Scientology's Internet Wars

James Walker

On March 12, 1996, Scientologists lost the latest skirmish in their ongoing Internet Wars when a Dutch judge acquitted Karin Spaink, et. al., of all charges. The Church of Scientology is currently locked in an international legal war to remove copies of their super-secret "scriptures" from the Internet. In the US, Scientologists have obtained federal court orders to raid and confiscate alleged "trade secrets" from the homes and offices of four of their most vocal critics, slapped lawsuits on Internet service providers, and sued the Washington Post when it ran a related news article. In other attempts to block public access to the materials, lawyers representing the church have threatened legal action against scores of others including Carnegie-Mellon University. Watchman Fellowship has been threatened with legal action by Scientology concerning these "scriptures" as well.

The war has also spread overseas. In the Netherlands, Scientology officials filed lawsuits against 23 parties, 15 Internet service providers, a major Dutch newspaper, and a corporation that is part of the Rotterdam municipal government. In Finland, Scientologists went after Johan Helsingius who operates an anonymous remailer service established to guard the privacy of individuals who wish to protect their identity when sending e-mail. Helsingius was eventually forced to release confidential client information. Critics of the cult allegedly countered efforts to delete the secret scriptures by posting copies on Internet computer servers located in the People's Republic of China. In theory, the Bejing government would have little patience with attorneys representing an American cult concerning "scripture" copyrights.

In addition to legal attacks, critics of Scientology claim that they have been stalked by private investigators, had their phones tapped, and endured Scientology harassment of their employers and friends. Former Scientologists also claim that messages critical of Scientology are mysteriously disappearing from the Internet through anonymously forged "cancel" messages which sparked a high-tech game of cat and mouse. Critics of Scientology teamed with free-speech advocates calling themselves "Rabbit Hunters" are tracking the hacker known as "Cancel Bunny" through cyberspace in an attempt to identify the culprit and repair the damage. (For a more complete overview of major events in 1995 see Wired, "alt.scientology.war," December 1995, p. 172, (Note: Article removed - URL retained for reference). For the very latest developments, see Ron Newman's web site, "The Church of Scientology vs. the Net," or visit the alt.religion.scientology Newsgroup.)

It sounds like the plot of one of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction novels. The lawsuits and harassment, however, are far from fictional. They are Scientology's weapons of choice in its battle to block the public's access to bizarre and controversial documents known in the cult's jargon by the initials OT.$p1.htm