At the same time, the CoS began heading to the courts. On January 3, 1995, Julf
Helsingius, the operator of the best-known anonymous remailer, anon.penet.fi,
posted a copy of a letter he had received from Kobrin on behalf of Thomas M.
Small, counsel for the RTC and Bridge Publications (publisher of Hubbard's work),
requesting that he block access to alt.religion.scientology and
alt.clearing.technology. Copies had also been sent to four other anonymous
remailers. The grounds given were that the remailers were being used as conduits
for stolen copyrighted materials. On January 9, Helsingius posted a copy of his
reply, which said that monitoring postings is impossible and that he didn't feel
blocking the groups was appropriate. Felipe Rodriguez, who runs a similar remailer
at the Dutch ISP xs4all, which he owns, says he made a similar reply.
Anonymous remailers get used a lot on alt.religion.scientology. What they do is
simple: they strip the headers and identifying information off messages and then
forward them to the email box or newsgroup specified by the sender. The services
vary in sophistication. The most complex and secure keep no logs, support the use
of strong encryption, and bundle messages together to defeat the kind of traffic
analysis that might match incoming and outgoing messages and thereby identify
posters. Helsingius's popular service was simpler than this: it could assign you an
anonymous ID on the fly, rather than demanding pre-arrangement, and it handled
replies. It would, in fact, be more accurate to call his service a pseudonymous
remailer, since over time an individual poster could interact on the Net and build up
a persona and reputation without revealing a real-world identity.
The reason for using such anonymizing services varies: discussing personal
histories of child abuse or addiction, seeking technical information in contexts
where your company would object to its name being revealed, or fear of the
political regime in which you live. On alt.religion.
scientology, fear of the CoS is common enough to make people feel they are in a
similar position. Anonymous remailers allow them to feel freer to criticize the CoS
or ask for information without fear of reprisal against themselves or friends or
relatives who may still be members. (As an example of the prevailing paranoia
level, when, in late 1996, one of alt.
religion.scientology's most persistent and strident Canadian critics disappeared
suddenly, taking with him all his posted messages and his Web site, many were
convinced he must have been strong-armed into silence, a fear that dispersed only
when he repeatedly insisted it was his own decision.)
Anonymizing services can undeniably be abused to smear or defame without
accountability, just like anonymous letters or phone calls can in the offline world.
The anonymous poster who surfaced in early 1995 calling him- or herself
Scamizdat and sending out collections of Scientology documents was an example
of the way the most secure anonymous remailers can be used to help a mocking
individual or individuals evade legal control. For the most part, though, the general
feeling on the Net is that the positive uses for these remailers outweigh the
potential for abuse.
Meanwhile, back at the newsgroup, the name-calling was growing vicious. Bashers
posted affidavits from former Scientologists alleging corruption; Scientologists posted
critiques of those affidavits alleging that the authors were known criminals, along
with affidavits of their own. One such affidavit was signed by Erlich's wife, Rosa, and
alleged he had abused their daughter. This didn't deter Erlich, who denied the
allegations and went on posting quotations from CoS materials and his critiques of them.
Erlich's Usenet feed comes from a small BBS in the Los Angeles area called
support.com, which in turn gets its Usenet feed from Netcom, one of the largest
U.S. Internet providers. The sysop (system operator) of support.com, Tom
Klemesrud, says that in early January 1995 Kobrin requested that he delete Erlich's
Internet account, which he refused to do. In mid-January, Klemesrud followed up by
reporting an Outer Limits-type incident in which his apartment was smeared with
blood by a young woman he had met in a bar--although it's unlikely that exactly
how and why will ever be adequately proven. Klemesrud believes this attack was
meant to frighten him into removing Erlich's account.
On January 23, a poster signing himself "-AB-" from the address
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