Top

news

Stories

 

STALKING THE NET

IN THE ONLINE BRAWL OVER SCIENTOLOGY, INTERNET USERS DISCOVER THAT VIRTUAL REALITY BITES BACK.SHOWDOWN IN CYBERSPACE THE BATTLE OVER SCIENTOLOGY'S SECRETS IGNITES A HOLY WAR ON THE INTERNET.

Most of the combatants tend to be allies of Scientology or its most virulent critics. But others have become embroiled in the controversy, too, from skittish Internet access providers and vengeful hackers to befuddled judges--who are being asked to apply traditional laws concerning copyright and fair use to a medium in which one user can instantly "publish" hundreds of pages of material for thousands of other users around the globe, to be browsed, copied, edited or ridiculed at will.

Pitting claims of religious rights and copyright protection against claims of free speech, the brawl seems made for the Internet. Discussion of the case is spilling over from the frenetic Scientology "newsgroup" (an electronic-mail discussion area) to other forums dealing with "Net abuse," censorship and related issues. For the first time, many users lured to online services by the promise of a global village of chat and commerce are discovering the dark side of the screen--an arcane and disturbing world of Cancelbunnies and strategic spammers, free-zoners and dead agents (see related story, previous page).

Kobrin, who has fired off e-mail legal warnings to people who have cited as few as six lines of Hubbard's copyrighted, unpublished works on the Internet, says the dispute has nothing to do with free speech. "There are those out there who are trying to make this into `The Church is trying to stop its critics,'" she notes. "We've filed three lawsuits. If we were going after critics, we'd have many more lawsuits than that. We're going after strictly intellectual property violations."

Wollersheim, though, sees the case as a kind of referendum on the future of the Internet. "Scientology has put the first heavy footprint on the Internet, and this case is going to determine who else will speak out in the social advocacy groups," he says. "If Scientology is able to stomp on us and remove us, the whole capabilities of the Net come into question."

Founded in 1954 in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology now claims a worldwide membership of 8 million people, including such high-profile parishioners as John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) and at least one member of Congress--Sonny Bono of Palm Springs. Detractors estimate membership to be much lower, but whatever the actual numbers, Scientology has managed to survive decades of media exposes, civil suits and one major criminal proceeding. In the early 1980s eleven top Church officials, including Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, were convicted of plotting break-ins, wiretaps and other crimes to thwart government probes of the group; the Church claims it has since cleaned house. After a mountain of litigation dating back to the 1960s, the Internal Revenue Service finally restored the Church's tax-exempt status in 1993, six years after Hubbard's death.

Anyone with a few bucks and a few hours to kill can embark on the road to Scientology by reading a copy of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Hubbard's best-selling manifesto, first published in 1950. After that, the process of rising through the spiritual ranks of Scientology becomes increasingly complex--and expensive.

At the most basic level, the Church's teachings involve undergoing a process of "auditing" with a polygraph-like device known as an E-meter in order to identify and conquer traumatic and inhibiting thoughts, known as engrams, and unlock human potential. Auditing sessions can cost up to $1,000 an hour, but the Church says the process eventually allows parishioners to "go clear," achieving a state of spiritual freedom known as Operating Thetan.

Scientology's upper-level teachings are less well-known. The Advanced Technology documents have to do with training the Operating Thetan to attain even higher levels of spiritual consciousness and to rid oneself of "body thetans," the spirits of aliens exiled to Earth 75 million years ago as a result of galactic war.

Church officials say they've gone to great lengths to safeguard the Advanced Tech-nology writings, which were authored by Hubbard beginning in the mid-1960s and released to the Church hierarchy (but never published) over a period of years. According to court filings, the materials are available "only to those who have attained the proper level of spiritual enlightenment," who must view them under tight security at one of seven churches around the world. Users must sign a confidentiality agreement specifying they won't divulge what they've learned. (Both Wollersheim and Penny apparently signed such agreements but contend that they are invalid.)

The only way the documents have ever left the possession of the Church, officials say, is through trickery or outright theft. In one infamous incident, two dissidents impersonating Scientology brass visited the Church's Copenhagen offices and walked out with the materials unchallenged.

But certain key details of Scientology's secrets have also found their way into the public record through other means, including news accounts and court filings by ex-members seeking damages from the Church. After hearings on the matter last month, Judge Kane concluded that the materials "have come into the public domain by numerous means" and could not be considered trade secrets under Colorado law.

"The stuff's been leaking out since 1968, when Hubbard first came up with it," says Robert V. Young, a former Scientology spokesman who testified on FACTNet's behalf.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...