attorneys have to come to grips with the kind of Net humor that posts directions to
copies of the secret documents which, when decoded, lead only to the searcher's
own computer's directory. It doesn't seem to be easy for them.
These suits must be the first ever to have been reported in such intimate detail on
the Net. Every affidavit, every court judgment, and full transcripts of every hearing
are all available in one or another archive. If the suits were intended to deter other
posters, surely the detail in which they are reported should suffice. But they have
not chilled the newsgroup.
Nor has the worst vertical spam in the history of the Net. From the end of May to
the end of July 1996 an estimated 20,000 messages consisting of brief quotations
from Scientology promotional materials were posted to alt.religion.scientology.
Posters, who had to pick their way through acres of the stuff in order to continue
considering the ramifications of the Netcom settlement, arguing about Scientology
practices, and, of course, flaming each other, were initially as stunned as you might
be if you got up one morning to find out that your street had been buried under
trainloads of eggplant. Many were convinced that the barrage, eventually dubbed
ARSBOMB, would kill the newsgroup entirely.
After a few weeks of panic reactions, a couple of schemes were proposed for by-passing the problem. One is very clever if you don't mind making fun of other
people's alien gods. Knowing that Scientologists are not supposed to say the name
of Xenu, the alien being Hubbard is said to have named supreme, one poster
proposed using it in message subjects to identify non-spam articles so they could
be filtered into a sub-newsgroup accepting only those postings. This rather arcane-sounding proposal was adopted and did pretty much work, although it was never
more than a stop-gap, as newcomers wishing to participate wouldn't catch on right
Over time, the same beings who cancel other types of spam were able to remove
most of the worst of it, and it became routine to see messages on news.admin.net-
abuse.misc detailing huge lists of what material had been removed and by whom.
At the same time, new waves of defiance have seen the secret documents posted
in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and on IRC. In a message to
alt.religion.scientology in early December 1996, a Norwegian poster listed the first
month of a program he called "Operation Clambake." One of the
more interesting items on the list was a "Random NOTS locator," which would find
you a copy of the documents wherever they happen to be posted that day. (In another context, this could be highly useful technology.) In the
Netherlands, well-known Dutch writer Karin Spaink and her ISP, xs4all, won in
From the CoS point of view, the Swedish case may be the most alarming. When
Zenon Panoussis posted the papers to his home pages on the Web, he got the
standard response: a request to take them down. Instead, he turned a copy of the
papers over to the Swedish Parliament, thereby making them a public document
under laws written into the Swedish constitution. The Parliament is accordingly
required to show a copy of the documents, for a modest copying fee, to anyone
who wants to see them. Although some of the papers were eventually stolen from
the Parliament buildings, and Panoussis himself in early January 1997 was
awaiting a visit from the bailiffs to seize the documents from his house, Panoussis
had given copies to several other institutions to which the same law applies. What
once would have been spirited abroad in someone's luggage could now be sent to
sanctuary in a matter of seconds.
By then, the Net had lost a stalwart institution (or so it seemed; it was two years
old). On August 30, 1996, Julf Helsingius announced he was closing anon.penet.fi,
after a lower-court ruling gave him thirty days to turn over to the CoS the name
and real email address of yet another poster it claimed had infringed its copyrights.
With another case from Singapore hanging on the CoS decision (which Helsingius
appealed), he concluded that there was no point in running the server if the privacy
laws were not strong enough to protect his users' anonymity. Changes in Finnish law to deregulate telecommunications had left what he hoped would be a temporary gap in legislation to cover Internet users' privacy. He hoped the laws
would be updated quickly.
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