ISP Reveals Scientology Critic

Wired News, June 8, 1999
by Polly Sprenger

In response to a subpoena, AT&T on Monday released the identity of a WorldNet subscriber to Bridge Publications, a corporate arm of the Church of Scientology.

The subscriber, known as "Safe," had posted portions of the church's doctrine to a newsgroup critical of Scientology. The church claims that these postings violate its copyright, and under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act obtained a subpoena to induce AT&T to reveal Safe's personal information.

Ava Paquette, the attorney who filed the subpoena, said that Safe had made "unauthorized, verbatim postings," from the group's copyrighted doctrines. Safe contends that his postings were not verbatim. Paquette did not return calls for comment.

"She got a questionably legal subpoena to violate my privacy under these false pretenses," Safe said. "I guess it won't surprise anybody that because AT&T has put my life at risk to this harassment organization, I will be switching both Internet service providers and my long-distance service from AT&T to MCI."

"There has been a history of them aggressively pursuing people who allegedly misuse their information," said David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Those people have historically tended to be critics. This is not a new phenomenon."

Sobel added that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act opens the door for privacy violations.

"This case arises in the context of the whole controversy surrounding online anonymity," he said. "The problem is that before there's even a real determination whether [there's an infringement], the legal information is identified. There needs to be better protection and some safeguards before the identity is disclosed."

Dan Leipold, an attorney who was advising Safe, said that AT&T had not given him reasonable time to respond to the subpoena while still protecting Safe's identity.

"AT&T didn't seem too enthusiastic to file objections or to stall this for even a couple of days," Leipold said. "If I had two weeks to deal with this I could have gotten everything done nicely."

AT&T was issued the subpoena by Bridge Publications on 28 May. The company was instructed to comply by 2 June. Leipold said that the issuance of the subpoena over Memorial Day weekend was strategic.

Safe said that he is worried that once in possession of his information, the Church of Scientology will engage in a campaign of discrediting and harassing him.

Safe said that not only was he not given enough time to argue against the subpoena, but the attorney for Bridge who filed it perjures herself in her statement.

Keith Henson, another critic of Scientology who was sued for alleged copyright infringement, said that Safe does have something to fear from the church. He said he suffered a stream of harassment at the hands of Scientologists, abuse that continues today.

"They put up posters in my neighborhood saying I was a child molester, picketed my house, showed up at all the places where I worked," Henson said. "That's the kind of thing he can expect to see right away."

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