6 Copyright Terrorists
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

At the same time, the CoS began heading to the courts. On January 3, 1995, Julf Helsingius, the operator of the best-known anonymous remailer, anon.penet.fi, posted a copy of a letter he had received from Kobrin on behalf of Thomas M. Small, counsel for the RTC and Bridge Publications (publisher of Hubbard's work), requesting that he block access to alt.religion.scientology and alt.clearing.technology. Copies had also been sent to four other anonymous remailers. The grounds given were that the remailers were being used as conduits for stolen copyrighted materials. On January 9, Helsingius posted a copy of his reply, which said that monitoring postings is impossible and that he didn't feel blocking the groups was appropriate. Felipe Rodriguez, who runs a similar remailer at the Dutch ISP xs4all, which he owns, says he made a similar reply.

Anonymous remailers get used a lot on alt.religion.scientology. What they do is simple: they strip the headers and identifying information off messages and then forward them to the email box or newsgroup specified by the sender. The services vary in sophistication. The most complex and secure keep no logs, support the use of strong encryption, and bundle messages together to defeat the kind of traffic analysis that might match incoming and outgoing messages and thereby identify posters. Helsingius's popular service was simpler than this: it could assign you an anonymous ID on the fly, rather than demanding pre-arrangement, and it handled replies. It would, in fact, be more accurate to call his service a pseudonymous remailer, since over time an individual poster could interact on the Net and build up a persona and reputation without revealing a real-world identity.

The reason for using such anonymizing services varies: discussing personal histories of child abuse or addiction, seeking technical information in contexts where your company would object to its name being revealed, or fear of the political regime in which you live. On alt.religion. scientology, fear of the CoS is common enough to make people feel they are in a similar position. Anonymous remailers allow them to feel freer to criticize the CoS or ask for information without fear of reprisal against themselves or friends or relatives who may still be members. (As an example of the prevailing paranoia level, when, in late 1996, one of alt. religion.scientology's most persistent and strident Canadian critics disappeared suddenly, taking with him all his posted messages and his Web site, many were convinced he must have been strong-armed into silence, a fear that dispersed only when he repeatedly insisted it was his own decision.)

Anonymizing services can undeniably be abused to smear or defame without accountability, just like anonymous letters or phone calls can in the offline world. The anonymous poster who surfaced in early 1995 calling him- or herself Scamizdat and sending out collections of Scientology documents was an example of the way the most secure anonymous remailers can be used to help a mocking individual or individuals evade legal control. For the most part, though, the general feeling on the Net is that the positive uses for these remailers outweigh the potential for abuse.

Meanwhile, back at the newsgroup, the name-calling was growing vicious. Bashers posted affidavits from former Scientologists alleging corruption; Scientologists posted critiques of those affidavits alleging that the authors were known criminals, along with affidavits of their own. One such affidavit was signed by Erlich's wife, Rosa, and alleged he had abused their daughter. This didn't deter Erlich, who denied the allegations and went on posting quotations from CoS materials and his critiques of them.

Erlich's Usenet feed comes from a small BBS in the Los Angeles area called support.com, which in turn gets its Usenet feed from Netcom, one of the largest U.S. Internet providers. The sysop (system operator) of support.com, Tom Klemesrud, says that in early January 1995 Kobrin requested that he delete Erlich's Internet account, which he refused to do. In mid-January, Klemesrud followed up by reporting an Outer Limits-type incident in which his apartment was smeared with blood by a young woman he had met in a bar--although it's unlikely that exactly how and why will ever be adequately proven. Klemesrud believes this attack was meant to frighten him into removing Erlich's account.

On January 23, a poster signing himself "-AB-" from the address


Copyright © 1997-99 NYU Press. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without written permission of New York University Press is prohibited.

Be sure to visit the NYU Press Bookstore

[Design by NiceMedia]