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The APC European Internet Rights Project
Internet Censorship Case Study:
The battle against the
By Jens Tingleff and Dave Bird.
Introduction. This is if anything a larger multi-mode conflict than
MacLibel involving, in the last 5 years since the Internet got embroiled
it, various major court and direct actions in a handful of countries.
group was founded by Science Fiction writer L.Ron Hubbard in 1950
as Dianetics, a pseudo-science alternative to psychotherapy treating
the mind like an old-style computer which built up a "bank" of bad
memories which have to be "cleared" away. It is primarily a business
courses in that at $2200 per level. It has some elements of
organised crime since Hubbard believed anyone critical of it must
be criminal, dealt with by finding or inventing crimes which can
be used to "shudder
him into silence" , and at any rate instructs members to "dead-agent"
any critic with personal attacks, ignoring what he says. In latter
years it became a political totalitarian movement with aspirations
to control governments, founding a paramilitary elite staff in naval
uniforms and a "department of government affairs" [HCOPL 5th Aug
1960] instructed, in terms, to steal any government papers hostile
a 1953 dispute over financial control of the organisation, Hubbard
started a new version called Scientology which involved a few elements
of reincarnating spirits and hence -- in ordinary terms -- religion.
However it continued to present itself as (pseudo-)science until,
in 1959, Helen O'Brien suggested
it adopt religious guise to avoid taxes and prosecutions. Over
time it evolved a progression of elaborate secret courses costing
many $10,000s each known as Operating Thetan levels (OTs) and NewEra-
Dianetics for Operating Thetans (NOTs). Briefly, Hubbard was based
for most of the 1960s
at Saint Hill Manor near East Grinstead, the 1970s
on board Cof$' own 300ft converted cattle ferry sailing the Mediterranean,
and the 1980s
at "Flag land base" in Clearwater FLA although many administrative
departments are in Los Angeles. Hubbard died
in 1986, but Cof$ continues under his successor David Miscavige.
The case for scientology can be seen at http://www.scientology.org/,
and against at such pages as http://www.xenu.net/or
Prior conflicts. Certain kinds of conflict were thus inevitable
even before the Internet became embroiled. (1) Each major critical
Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper 1971, Messiah
or Madman by Bent Corydon 1987, A
Piece of Blue Sky by UK ex-member Jon Atack 1990, Bare
Faced Messiah by UK journalist Russell Miller 1987, ] resulted
and personal harassment against the authors; (2) Governments
called inquiries into the Scientology cult [ Sir
John Foster , UK 1971; Prof.
J A Lee in Canada, 1970; Koetze in S.Africa 1973; Sir
John Foster in Australia 1965 ]. Eleven senior Scientologists
including the founder's wife were convicted in 1979 in the "Operation
Snow White" trial of stealing documents from US government offices.
There was also a Canadian Snow White case, and the Cof$ were fined
$1,000,000 for libelling crown prosecutor Casey
Hill. Release of OT and NOTs was also a continuing source of
conflict, especially with breakaway groups of dissenting Scientologists.
The conflict which hit the Internet, initially over release of OT
and NOT documents, spread into a varietyof theatres.(1) There were
US court-cases [ab-]using copyright to suppress publication,
plus one in Holland and one in Sweden; there have been attempts
to suppress protests with court injunctions, and to frame critics
e.g. for drug possession; critics pushed for both criminal and civil
action over the killing by neglect of Lisa MacPherson at the cult's
Florida HQ; and one UK critic won a £150,000 libel case over
material they circulated against her. (2) On the cult's side they
have continued beyond lawsuit into direct action [hacking] to attempt
removing, removing articles from, or flooding out with nonsense,
the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology
. Both sides have used real-life direct action i.e. picketing
of cult buildings, and the cult picketing
protesters' homes or putting rumours round their neighbours.
All internet modes -- web, news, mailing-lists, IRC, remailers --
have been involved in one way or another.
Cof$ LawSuits against Netizens.
real conflict began in August 1995. The case was (a)
Fishman and Gertz vs Cof$, court details, in which Fishman briefly
put the text of the O.T.Levels into public court records. This was
just at that "take-off" in the Internet's growth curve where such
a thing was bound to spread. And spread it did, from Dave
Touretzky's page at Carnegie Melon University to strange places
all over the world, followed by the Scientology cult in a desperate
attempt to stop the flow. It matters little Fishman was unstable
and the case got nowhere, once the OTs were out.
next step was that the material was posted on Usenet and Dennis
formerly a senior Cof$ official, quoted some verifying it was genuine.
Erlich was provided with lawyers Morrison and Forester by the ACLU.
Around summer 1999 Erlich settled, including an agreement not to
further discuss these matters. However, Keith Henson
says a senior Cof$ person shouted at him you "want five million
dollars like Erlich".
about the same time Arnie Lerma
in Montana posted some of the material and was also sued. He passed
it to the Washington Times, who printed the famous
six lines from O.T.Level Seven directing adepts to communicate
telepathically with plants and trees. The case against the paper
was struck out entirely. Lerma was held to have committed five copyright
violations at the minimum $500 each, and no costs awarded.
By this time the OTs were largely resident in Holland, with magazine
journalist Karin Spaink
and others. The cult had ISP xs4all raided,
and brought a case against Spaink and co. Because the cult were
notably reluctant to prove their ownership, they got an order removing
a few specific documents and little else. The material was repeatedly
getting onto usenet via chained encrypted remailers, and the cult
were unable to crack the security.
Later Zenon Panoussisin
Sweden began to openly repost the NOTs, which had been circulated
anonymously. A court-case there resulted in nominal fines. However,
it made the NOTs "public open papers" which the state can issue
to any individual citizen, or indeed foreigner, who covers the administrative
costs of doing so. There has been pressure from the USA to alter
the Swedish constitution on this point, but so far it has been defeated
in the courts. Ironically Zenon now lives with Karin in Amsterdam,
so some joy has come of all this wrangling.
There were two further US cases concerning the NOTs. Grady Ward
is an expert in lexicography and cryptography who, with Patrick
Juola, made the check-word system for PGP6 [page 224 of Manual].
Ward was accused of being the anonymous Scamizdat who posted NOTs
through chained remailers. Without an ounce of proof the court decided
"we know you did it you cocky so and so, and the plaintiff's proposed
settlement is the outcome even tho' you never agreed it as law requires."
He is technically bankrupt and has to pay peanuts per month, so
is not exactly feeling crushed.
associated with such weird and speculative real science as the L5
society, and nano-technology. He became involved with NOTs when
he -- accurately -- wrote an open letter to a court saying it was
instructions to break earlier court orders. His sense of the absurd
annoyed a jury into inflicting the ridiculously high penalty of
$75,000, which he cannot pay because he is bankrupt. There is a
further case against Henson's expression as picketing where Riverside
County DA's office is attempting to change him for "threatening
Cof$ with cruise-missiles" over joking about GPS coordinates. For
all the absurdity of the charge he could be jailed for a year if
Netizens' lawsuits against Cof$.
As noted earlier
under "Snow White", Canadian crown Prosecutor Casey Hill took libel
action Cof$ attacks on him. In Britain, Bonnie
Woods , an American former Cof$ member who came to live here
with her British husband, sued Cof$ for libel over leaflets about
her distributed in her high-street and neighbourhood in 1993; Cof$
tried to crush them by weight of expenditure and frivolous motions.
One of us [Bird] asked the General Secretary of MCCL/Liberty to
consider this on its merits, and he arranged for Allen and Overy
to represent her pro bono. The case rolled inexorably to trial in
1999 where Cof$ caved in on the first day for £150,000.
On Dec 5th 1995 Lisa MacPherson
died at the cult's Fort Harrison Hotel building in Clearwater
Florida: they had held her there for 17 days while she was too psychotic
to take food or drink for herself and she died, after severe weight
loss, from a blood clot likely due to dehydration. This came to
notice when Netizen's spotted the Fort Harrison address among deaths
listed on a police web-site. A state prosecution collapsed after
the medical examiner, Joan Wood, changed her evidence under lobbying
from Cof$, and she subsequently lost
the post of M.E. . The family are still pursuing civil action
financed by net-activist Bob
Cof$ Hacktivim against the Net.
have a low threshold for dealing with critical speech by hostile
direct action, and they have not hesitated to use hacking against
(a) On 11th Jan 1995 aCof$ lawyer, Helena
'Handbasket' Kobrin, issued
an RMGROUP control message designed to cause the removal of
alt.religion.scientologyfrom news servers around the world: because
Cof$ owned the trademark Scientology and they didn't want a newsgroup
about it. She may nave conceived this as something she had lawful
authority to do, but it was met with widespread anger and ridicule
and resulted in her being elected usenet Kook
Of The Month for March 1995.
In August 1995 the release of the OT levels onto a CMU website led
to a massive flood of disguised-source cancelsfrom
the so-called "cancel-bunny" [because it just kept reproducing more
and more of them]. Eventually a bunch of amateur "rabbit hunters"
tracked the menace to an account at kaiwan.com, which was shut down.
Variously at key times since, there have been floods of up to 10,000
jamming articles per day known as the "ArsBomb"
flooding attempt . Formats have included the so called "sporgery"
[spam-forgery] in which headers from a regular contributor are combined
with the body of an offensive article e.g. from a white-power newsgroup
and then spammed onto ars. Later efforts included hundreds of separate
short paragraphs from Hubbard writings each posted multiple times,
and output of a nonsense generator such as HipCrime which produces
articles full of "zzzbfw glwflp nrk" etc. This moved through a series
of disposable accounts bought for cash. However, it was effectively
tracked to a particular address and stopped.
How We Fought Back
Introduction. Over the period there has built up as well as the
newsgroup and the IRC channel #ScientologyLIES a community of about
[mostly rented sites rather than sysops], together with mailing-lists
for announcing new material or asking queries and an IRC. As well
as aggrieved ex-members, the Cof$' attacks dragged in a large number
of sys-ops, spam-busters, and other net savvy people connected with
to remove any article quoting the materials or the URL for them.
After great efforts a bunch of amateur abuse-busters; plus many
others who are just free- speech activists on the Net who were active
in Campaign Against Censorship, Amnesty International, etc, before
the Net arrived. These brought with them useful resources for fighting
any further technical and legal attacks.
threats to web-pages occur every 2 or 3 months. Cof$ clearly feels
this is a war of attrition where they can constantly pick off the
few weakest links and hope the group as a whole will slowly lose
numbers or interest. There is no formal watching or mirroring system,
because we are mostly not sys-ops. However, attacked areas manage
to get rapidly reported and mirrored somewhere by the usual "organised
anarchy" of the Net.
Against in depth legal attacks. The main area have been Cof$ mis-using
copyright to enforce secrecy, and counterattacks by suing Cof$ for
character assassination campaigns: the latter only succeeded (i)
for a major state official, or (ii) with massive pro bono legal
backing. The Cof$ philosophy here appears to be that "the purpose
of a lawsuit is not to win but to harass and bankrupt" [cited here];
that by applying massive force they can crush the isolated opponent
and their problem will vanish. Sometimes they are happy to crush
by harassment an opponent who has sued them then give him a money
settlement to shut up and go away. Generally the small individual
has little chnace of actually getting a fair verdict... certainly
in America, though the British and Dutch courts are much more loath
to enforce secrecy via copyright on Cof$ material. Two cases, Woods
, have been helped by major civil rights groups. What Cof$ have
not allowed for... is defendants like the MacLibel two, who become
in Erlich's phrase, a "tar baby" [the reference is to Aesop as reinterpreted
in Brer Rabbit]; i.e. they devote immense amounts of time to learning
law and fighting back, then simply go bankrupt and don't care about
any supposed money penalty. This is a Pyrrhic victory for the attacker,
bringing immense bad publicity... and, in Internet terms, recruiting
a thousand new supports for each one they try to silence. Internet
media have been immensely useful for tracing motions by each side
at every stage, discussion of tactics by email, and mainstream legal
press picking up where this or that judge has been clearly unfair
in bending over backwards to take the large corporate side.
Against in depth technical attacks. The biggest cancel or flood
attacks seem to be on those who themselves either cancel spam or
track other kinds of abuse; second to them, and because there is
a large cross-over, is ARS. Cancel attacks have been watched for
by the Lazarus 'bot running on a server in Germany, which gives
a digest of cancels for the group. Flooding attacks require spam-cancelling
Bots to clean them out. What gets through can be dealt with by circulating
shared kill-files for the NFILTER
local host program or similar. Sources of both get hunted down by
the usual abuse tracking methods. This type of censorship/blocking
attack may have some success by attrition i.e. it puts off technically
weaker among the passing readers or occasional contributors. However
the worst floods have been handled with only a 25-30% drop in real
traffic. Such methods will never cause total blocking i.e. the important
news will get through, to those it is important should hear it,
virtually whatever blocking is tried. Also, such provocations tend
to attract many new supporters.
Other Fightbacks. Such a long-term multi-mode struggle, even more
spread out than McLibel which was largely one court-case in one
country, cannot forget two other strands. The first is to take direct
action by picketing, phoning in, etc, even if there are only a few
of you in each location: it is remarkable how freaked large authoritarian
groups are by the thought their use of coercion against others could
come back on them directly and at their prestige sites. The second
is the importance of edited mainstream media. To the extent anyone
can say anything on the Net and many do the value is diluted: its
real importance is that tiny 0.1% of stories that matter when these
reach into more selective and influential media, where they may
well have gone unnoticed without it.
What Was Achieved
Results so far. Cof$ has not managed to have the newsgroup removed
or rendered inoperable. A few particular web-sites or parts thereof
have moved or shut down, but almost all were mirrored first. The
material it sought to keep secret is widely available. The movement
against them is bigger than ever. People, especially in America,
are much more aware and contemptuous of Cof$. Cof$ used to maintain
an atmosphere of fear, now nobody is afraid to openly criticise
and, worse, laugh at them. The organisation is slowly losing members,
though it still survives on stored plunder. As yet nobody seems
able to strike the decisive blow which will get it closed down --
critics just want the fraud and haras-sment stopped but it seems
reform is unlikely so closure it must be -- so it seems set for
a long slow slide of decline.
Lessons For The Future
Lessons. Where a small tyrannical group wants to push around a large
crowd of people two things weigh in their favour: that the people
accept the status quo and have little cohesion or willingness to
act, but that they have very great cohesive discipline and willingness
to use coercion, by lies or blows, to an extreme degree -- they
must, if challenged, to compensate for their inferior numbers --
their greatest victory is if the situation is rigged to go their
way and it would take an immense amount of effort on things people
don't normally control to change that. If they issue a command to
which people can and do severally say 'no', then they are in a difficult
position. They will use extreme force of punches or lawsuits to
get a few individual defiers, who have almost no individual chance
of prevailing. This is like an elephant stomping on army ants one
by one: it takes a lot of effort to stomp one ant. In the end, the
ants will eat it. Netizens have also adopted a tactic of African
ants and bees, that the scent of each new victim being crushed mobilises
a thousand new supporters to sting the attacker which crushed it.
In more specific sense, the anti-scientology struggle grows and
adopts new technical means. There are for example CDs of the web-pages
and the newsgroup archive; there are search engines emerging for
the whole collection of pages. To the extent it is not stopped each
time, it grows bolder and more proficient in new techniques.
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