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Scientologists step up campaign against net critics

The Times, Wednesday 25 October 1995, page 7

From: Martin Poulter <M.L.Poulter@bristol.ac.uk>
Date: Fri Oct 27 13:55:08 GMT 1995

[This is the text of the article on page 7 of The Times [of London] "Interface" supplement of Wednesday 25th October. Since it is based on an interview with me, I include a couple of notes to clarify my quoted comments.]

The Church of Scientology has stepped up its campaign to silence its critics on the Internet, devoting an entire issue of its magazine Freedom to attacking what it calls computer terrorists.

The church, founded by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, has been attempting to quell unfavourable comment on the World Wide Web for nine months, since former minister Dennis Erlich posted excerpts from the church's "sacred texts" to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology. [In actual fact, the excerpts were posted anonymously and Dennis merely quoted some to vouch for their authenticity.] His home in California was raided under warrant [no- *writ of seizure*!] and computer equipment was seized. Since then, the offices of an Amsterdam Internet acces provider have been similarly raided, and five Internet users in the UK have been warned that they face legal action.

One of these is Martin Poulter, a philosophy student at the University of Bristol, which shut down access for a day after being approached by the church's lawyers. The access has been restored, but Poulter has tempered the content of his page.

The cases raise the vexed question of copyright on the Internet, of concern to many commerical users. However, critics of Scientology say there is no breach of copyright if extracts of the texts are used alongside copious commentaries. "Even though we believe we are right we don't want to have to prove it in court," Poulter said. [Here I am referring to the time and expense- if it weren't for that, a court case against them would actually be a good thing.] The raid last month on the offices of xs4all in Amsterdam backfired on the Church. There are now more than 100 sites on the Internet carrying either the sacred texts or the "Fishman Affidavit". Fishman was a former Scientologist who, charged with a series of thefts, claimed the church had brainwashed him.

"The publicity surrounding the raid shot up the readership of the newsgroup into the tens of thousands," said Poulter, whose research is into rational and irrational beliefs. [I was talking about the Erlich raid, not the xs4all raid, not that that matters much.] "I'm concerned about freedom of speech. The Internet is a haven for free thought like no other. Scientology is the opposite."

The church's latest magazine, which devotes more than 20 pages to the Internet, attacks "the treachery of a small but insidious number of people who have furnished the Internet with a dark side: privacy invasions, lawlessness, intolerance and theft."

Martin Poulter's home page (http://mail.bris.ac.uk/%7Eplmlp/) is linked to many other related sites.

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