Alt.scientology.war - 1995-12-01
It turns out that a belief in free speech and an interest in Scientology may involve you in the bitterest battle fought across the Internet to date. The story of Scientology versus the Net is not a tale of friendly nethead-to-nethead hostilities like 1993's kittens-in-the-microwave flame war between alt.tasteless and rec.pets.cats. This is mortal combat between two alien cultures - two worlds whose common language masks the gulf between them. A flame war with real guns. A fight that has burst the banks of the Net and into the real world of police, lawyers, and armed search and seizure. Ultimately, however, the drama doesn't matter: the real issues here are the boundaries of free speech and the future of copyright and intellectual property in the face of a technology that can scatter copies across the world in seconds. The Church of Scientology will not be the last organization, controversial or otherwise, that seeks to protect its interests against the Net. Technology doesn't care about the motives of its users.
In this story, everyone's motives sound the same: all the participants believe they are benefiting humanity. Scientologists genuinely believe their secrets can save the world, but that they must be doled out only to those who have proven ready to receive them. Followers hold fiercely to the notion that their revered, secret texts must never be disseminated, save to the rigorously initiated, who pay tens of thousands of dollars to study them. Critics insist the religion is a scam that seeks to take over the minds of its adherents and bilk them of huge sums of money by selling utter nonsense; they feel that exposing these truths - and the secret texts - to the eyes of the Usenet-reading public is protecting that public from exploitation.
Whatever the motives, when computers are seized because they contain allegedly purloined intellectual property, messages are intercepted as they traverse the network, or the security of anonymous remailers is pierced by police, the days of the Internet as a cozy, private, intellectual cocktail party are over. Welcome to real politics.