Scientology's censorware humiliates adult members
New battle in techno-censorship war on the Internet
[August 20, 1998]
In its unending techno-censorship war on the Internet, Scientology has made another in its long history of unscrupulous moves. This time, Scientology surreptitiously orchestrated the installment of an invisible Internet censoring devise on the computers of its adult members. The danger of Scientology's tampering with the Internet goes beyond its own realm of criminality and fraud, but also branches out and provides an example for other similarly unethical organizations. It is time for the Internet to massively protest Scientology's ongoing censorship attempts, before other totalitarian groups learn from its example.
The censoring device was a program hidden on a CD provided to members by Scientology as part of its program to get Scientologists to set up home pages endorsing Scientology. The censorship software was developed from a program designed to prevent children from viewing material inappropriate for them, such as pornography and obscene language. But Scientology's version twists the program to prevent its grown-up members from viewing material critical of Scientology, largely without their consent, even if language and graphics are of G-level rating. In fact, the "church" has banned its members from viewing the terms "God" and "religion."
CHOPPY SURFING: Internet use becomes very difficult
Scientologists who have unknowingly installed the censoring device onto their computers have these strange results on the Internet:
On the Web, censored sites and search engines such as www.xenu.net, www.entheta.net, www.factnet.org, and www.dejanews.com are simply not accessible. It is as if web pages critical of Scientology do not exist.
On pages which are accessible, censored domain titles, words, and names are listed as blanks. For example, "www.xenu.net" might read " . . ". In addition, certain terms cause web pages to stop loading altogether.
In IRC discussions, some censored words appear blank, while others - such as Xenu, Wollersheim, and Erlich -- immediately disconnect the censorwared user from the channel. According to formerly censored ex-Scientologist Charlotte Kates, "It was nearly impossible to converse on IRC with the filter."
As for email, Scientologists with the filter program are unable to send or receive emails to or from people or web sites that Scientology has censored. So cult victims cannot converse with anyone the cult disapproves of, including exit counselors and victim-assistance organizations.
THIS IS FREEDOM OF RELIGION? Scientology's hypocrisy
Hopefully this latest control ploy by Scientology will demonstrate once and for all that this organization's claim to value freedom, particularly religious freedom, is sadly and sickly hollow. In fact, in the same instant its right hand is pointing to the "Bridge of Total Freedom," its left is fastening the shackles. And the right knows exactly what the left is doing. At the same moment members believe they are expressing religious freedom by setting up an "I Am a Scientologist" web page, their religion is denying their freedom - freedom of religion, freedom of information, freedom of independent thought to make fully-informed decisions regarding their religion.
The Internet has always threatened Scientology. Condemning information, which Scientology successfully silenced for years by harassing, threatening, and/or suing television, print media, and publishers, is now available at every moment, in every country, to everyone with Internet access - everyone, that is, except censorwared Scientologists. Widespread is the Internet documentation of Scientology's secret satanic doctrines, member suicides, mysterious deaths, forced abortions, psychotic breaks, government infiltration, financial fraud, illegal activity, and religious persecution.
SCIENTOLOGY'S WAR ON THE INTERNET: A long history of battles
Scientology has waged war on the Internet in an attempt to block Netizens' access to this documentation, and the censorware scheme is only the latest in a long series of battles. Scientology's war on the Internet began in 1994. Since then, Scientology has shut down web sites, raided critics' homes, hired private investigators, attacked a newsgroup, and brought lawsuits against web hosts, Internet service providers, and cult awareness organizations. Here is a brief history of Scientology Internet abuse:
Operation Cancelbunny: Scientology censors alt.religion.scientology
Alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.) has been one of the most active newsgroups on the Internet, a place where pro- and anti-Scientology netizens hotly debate each other. Beginning in 1994, Scientology operatives began tampering with a.r.s. by surreptitiously canceling postings critical of itself. The "Cancelbunny" deleted hundreds of messages using email accounts at a variety of service providers, all of whom responded swiftly to determine the identities of the unauthorized cancelers and terminate their accounts. A group of netizens, the "Rabbit Hunters," even joined forces to track down the Cancelbunny.
While the efforts of the Rabbit Hunters and ISPs slowed the Cancelbunny and forced it to jump around quite a bit, the bunny was still going actively in April 1995, 17 months after beginning its cancellations, and still appears from time to time now three years later.
Operation Delete a.r.s.: Scientology attempts to off the newsgroup
In January 1995 Scientology attorney Helena Kobrin unilaterally instructed Usenet servers to delete the whole a.r.s. newsgroup. Kobrin sent emails to the servers with the "remove" instruction usually used to delete newsgroups. Fortunately, her instruction was not followed and alt.religion.scientology is now one of the 10 most active Internet newsgroups.
Operation Raid: Scientology raids Internet users' homes
Scientology's 1995 raids of Internet users' homes comprise one of the most atrocious chapters in the history of Scientology's censorship war on the Internet. A great deal of information surrounds the raids. Briefly:
February: Scientology raided the home of former Scientologist Dennis Erlich, seizing numerous items including computers and disks. Erlich - along with Tom Klemesrud, the operator of his bulletin board system (BBS) and Netcom, his Internet service provider - was subsequently sued by Scientology for "copyright infringements."
Early August: Scientology raided the home of former Scientologist Arnie Lerma for posting to the Internet a widely-available federal court document known as the Fishman Papers. The papers included excerpts of Scientology's "secret scripture." Scientology then sued Lerma, his service provider Digital Gateway Systems, and even the Washington Post for including 46 words from the Fishman Papers in an article on the incident.
Late August: Again claiming copyright infringement, Scientology raided the home of Lawrence Wollersheim and Bob Penny , the then-directors of FACTNet, a nonprofit BBS (now a web site). With federal marshals standing by, Scientology seized computers, disks, files, and more. Naturally, Scientology then sued FACTNet.
September: "Scientology agents, accompanied by a locksmith, local police, and two U.S. `computer experts', entered the premises of XS4ALL (xs4all.nl), an ISP in Amsterdam. Scientology demanded that XS4ALL remove a copy of the Fishman Papers from a customer's web page. (XS4ALL refused to do so.) Dutch Internet users protested Scientology's action by putting over 100 copies of the Fishman Papers on web sites all over the country. Scientology responded to this cyber-civil-disobedience campaign by suing four Dutch Internet service providers (including XS4ALL) as well as well-known Dutch writer Karin Spaink , who helped initiate the campaign. They withdrew this lawsuit on December 12, but filed a much larger suit, against 23 separate parties, on January 31. A court hearing was held on February 26, and a verdict was rendered on March 12, giving a total victory to the defendants." [Written by Scientology critic Ron Newman ].
Operation Anonymous Remailer: Scientology sues and squashes
Starting in January 1995 Scientology launched an attack against anonymous remailers and posters. In January a letter was sent to anonymous remailers demanding they not allow anonymous postings to a.r.s. or alt.clearing.technology. At this point, such prominent entities such as Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post reported Scientology's Internet abuses.
Later, in the Spring of 1996, in an attempt to attack anonymous postings by "Scamizdat," Scientology filed suit against a.r.s. poster Grady Ward (www.gradyward.com) and then Keith Henson . In connection with the suit, the Finnish anonymous remailer anon.penet.fi was ordered to reveal the identities of two of its users. The remailer's administrator, Julf Helsingius, refused to disclose the names. Instead, on August 22, 1996, he closed anon.penet.fi, an action that shocked the Internet and was widely reported in the media.
Operation Spam Attack: Scientology clogs a.r.s.
Scientology's abuse of a.r.s continued via a new method from May to December 1996. During this time, Scientology bombarded a.r.s. with thousands of spam messages taken verbatim from the Scientology web site. This action paralyzed the purpose and effective use of the newsgroup.
Operation Netizen: Scientology threatens netizens at large
Scientology has sent numerous emails to Netizens threatening litigation for posting even short excerpts of Scientology's copyrighted material, despite the fact that copyright law allows such excerpting. Netizens and their families have received threats by email and fax, visits by Scientologists and private investigators, and slanderous phone calls.
Operation Scientologist On-Line: Scientology clogs search engines
Scientology sent Internet web site templates to over 100,000 Scientologists, so the Scientologists could set up sites that appear to be their personal home pages. In so doing, Scientology hoped to clog Internet searches. The City of Night reported, "Church officials hope that by creating many, many web sites that link to Scientology's home page, Scientology can clog search engines and prevent information critical of the Church from reaching those interested in learning all about Scientology." [City of Night, March 19 - 25].
The full ridiculousness of the Scientologist On-Line program is only coming to light now that there are (Scientology claims) 10,000 Scientologist sites on the web. The sites are virtually identical. Only four small areas pertain to the individual Scientologist, and those sections must be approved by Scientology, along with any subsequent changes to them. The other sections and links go directly to Scientology web sites. In many cases, the individual's page is on a web site hosted by Scientology. There is no email by which to contact the individual Scientologist. And, it has been reported that sometimes the Scientologist hand-writes the personal information section and passes it to Scientology to create and host the page. But most insane - especially given this organization is claiming the Scientologist On-Line program is an expression of religious freedom -- is the hidden censorship devise which severely curtails the freedom of those very Scientologists supposedly exercising freedom of religion!
THE LATEST PLOY: Scieno-sitter program babysits adult members
Scientology's censorware is on the CD they receive as part of the Scientologist On-Line program, a software hidden in the Netscape InstallShield so that even in My Computer or Windows Explorer it is invisible.
For those Scientologists who read the fine print, they will find the following one-sentence clause in the agreement they must sign to install the CD:
"6. Agree to use the specific Internet Filter Program that CSI has provided to you which allows you freedom to view other sites on Dianetics, Scientology and its principals without threat of accessing sites deemed to be using the Marks or the Works in an unauthorized fashion or deemed to be improper or discreditable to the Scientology religion."
However, this is the only mention or description of a censorware that has major effects on one's use of the Internet. And even this brief description is deceptive. It intones that Scientology's "upper level" materials might be inaccessible, along with possibly copyrighted information. It does not give the impression that the filter will radically alter Internet use, or hint that it includes over 1,000 terms - including such broad words as broad as "picket," "religion," and "God" - which are censored. As Charlotte Kates noted, "Sure, the Scientologist consents, but as it is with all else connected to the cult, doesn't give informed consent."
THE BANNED: Who, what, & why
The censorship list is a motley group of over 1,000 banned terms, email addresses, and web sites, including the following.
Terms from Scientology's high-level copyrighted "sacred" writings. Reading these secret materials costs Scientologists thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of training. Scientology justifies the costs by claiming a person must be "spiritually ready" to understand the assertions; ex-members insist that by the time a person has progressed to the point of readiness, he or she is so deluded as to be susceptible to believe anything, even the famed Xenu story. The banned terms of this type include "Xenu," "Galactic ruler," "million years ago," "7 billion years," "NOTs," and "fair game."
Names, book titles, and web sites of Scientology critics and ex-members, even those that don't mention the copyrighted materials. Terms of Scientology criticism include "Tilman Hausherr," "Ted Mayett," "Clambake," "FACTNet," and "Bare Faced Messiah." Some ex-members left Scientology with hopes of exercising religious freedom by reforming what they believed to be positive aspects of the practice of Scientology; most efforts have been quelled by Scientology.
Scientology terms and Scientologists' names, which one would think Scientologists would like to have access to, such as "Scientology" and "Mark Ingber," the Scientologist leader who made the March 13th announcement of censorware's premier. Also censored are "Diana Hubbard," L. Ron Hubbard's daughter, "Norman Starkey," a high-level leader, "Lisa McPherson," a Scientologist who went psychotic and died while in the care of Scientology, and terms that refer to Scientology properties such as "Gilman Hot Springs" and "Hemet." (It has been proposed that the censorship program avoids censoring its own sites by including a list of "approved" sites which bypasses the censored terms, such as www.scientology.com even though "Scientology" is on the banned list.)
Seemingly broad terms in the English language, such as "private investigator," "conspiracy," "net," "charlatan," "murder," "deposition," and "Dennis." Also, "Picket," "picket," "picketers," "picketing," and "Picketing."
Web sites, organizations, media, and libraries that promote freedoms - from freedom of information to freedom of religion -- such as the Boston Herald and St. Petersburg Times newspapers, and "bio.library.arizona.edu." Perhaps most ironic is "freethought.tamu.edu."
Religious terms, extremely odd for an organization that calls itself a religion to try to keep from its members. Terms as universal as "God" and "religion." Also disturbing is the fact that the newsgroup alt.support.ex-cult is banned.
GET THIS THING OFF!
How to get Scientology's censorware OFF a computer? When Charlotte Kates called Scientology to find out, the representative would not tell her but rather offered to fly a technician to Kates to remove it at no cost! Kates told the rep she would not allow a Scientologist near her computer, and only later discovered a simple method of removing the software. She found that " with my new installation of [Windows 98], I've discovered that it has rid me forever of the [Scientology] presence on my computer."
Since it began, Scientology's war on the Internet has received loud negative reaction from a large and varied group of individuals and organizations. Netizens, Internet service providers, and other net-dependent corporations such as search mechanisms should be outraged that Scientology has hampered the smooth operation of the Internet through false cancellations and spam. People and organizations concerned with censorship such as EFF are concerned that Scientology so blatantly and automatically attempts to censor those who criticize it. Internet critics whose homes were raided and their property confiscated question what free speech means in supposedly free nations.
And now, Scientologists themselves should be incensed that their "church" has secretly put them on a censorship device meant for children! In a posting to alt.religion.scientology, Charlotte Kates wrote: "[Scientology leaders] must quake in fear at the thought of this place freeing Scientologists from mental slavery. The Internet freed me, and I know its potential. And so do they. I, for one, will do whatever I can to speed its victims' liberation. [Scientology's leaders] are afraid. Deathly afraid. They know the power of freedom, of a liberated voice. And to silence that voice is no longer in their power. They cannot do it through their threats, through the courts, nor through the net."
Let us all do what we can to counter Scientology's war on the Internet. What you can do:
Write to search engines, such as Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek, etc, and ask them to appropriately handle Scientology's spamming tactics which attempt to make search engine services less effective.
Become more informed and inform other Netizens about Scientology's techno-censorship tactics. Alt.abuse is a good newsgroup for this topic, and some excellent web sites on the topic include:
Operation Clambake's censorware page at www.xenu.net/ archive/events/ censorship/
A Web of Their Own [Salon Magazine, July 15, 998] at www.salonmagazine.com/ 21st/feature/1998/07/ 15feature.html
Help make more accessible and widespread the very information Scientology is trying to censor.
Boycott celebrities promoting Scientology: John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Jenna Elfman, and Ginger Spice. For information on Scientology's celebrities, see www.factnet.org/Scientology/celebrities.htm.
We cannot let the techno-censorship continue. Not only is Scientology censoring the Internet, but it is teaching other similarly unethical, totalitarian organizations how to restrict, distort, and fabricate information. And no doubt Scientology's next attack is in the works. Join FACTNet and many others in opposing Scientology's attack on freedom!
FACTNet is a nonprofit Internet archive dedicated to protecting freedom of mind by reducing harms caused by cults and mind control. FACTNet's web page is located at and has received over 1,850,000 hits since January 1, 1997. If you would like to subscribe to our free letters/FACTNews newsletter please go to http://lists.factnet.org/mailman/listinfo/factnet-news Also note: You can now search not only the FACTNet web site, but also other cult and mind control-related sites with FACTNet's new webcrawler search engine. Try a search at www.factnet.org/.