Scientologists Trying To Silence Cyber Critics

Source: Times-Picayune
Date: November 19, 1995

Chilling Effect On Internet Feared

Scientology Fighting Foes

In a flurry of surprise raids recently, members of the Church of Scientology have accompanied authorities into the homes of their most prolific critics in cyberspace, seizing computers, disks and cartons of materials.

They have gone as far as Finland to pursue the identity of someone who allegedly had stolen their secret sacred texts and violated U.S. copyright laws by then using a re-mailer, which masks the identity of the sender, to publish them on the Internet.

The flurry of activity brought by disciples of L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology 40 years ago, amounts to what legal experts say could pose the greatest challenge yet to unbridled free speech on the Internet. Free-speech proponents also fear that the litigation may have a chilling effect on the Internet, silencing critics of the church and requiring on-line services to police the electronic messages of their subscribers.

Shari Steele, legal counsel to the Electronic Freedom Frontier, a nonprofit group seeking to protect civil liberties in cyberspace, said, "It affects the entire way service will be provided in the future. It's as if a telephone company was going to be held liable for the content of telephone messages."