Cops Halt Internet Anonymity February 28, 1995 HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- Police have seize
Cops Halt Internet Anonymity
February 28, 1995
HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- Police have seized data from a computer
operator who helps people mask their identities on the Internet,
firing a new shot in the war over computer privacy.
The action last month has drawn protests from Internet users,
who said it was the first time police have forced one of the
so-called ``anonymity servers'' to help an investigation.
But police insisted Tuesday that they operated within the law
when seizing a computer address on Feb. 8 from the service run in
Helsinki by private computer consultant Johan Helsingius.
``It's a wild network as far as we're concerned,'' said Police
Inspector Harri Pulkkinen. ``We were asked to look into an alleged
crime, and that's what we did.''
At the request of California police and the Los Angeles-based
Church of Scientology, Finnish police ordered Helsingius to hand
over information that might help them identify an Internet user who
allegedly had stolen files from the church's computer in Los
Angeles in January.
Police said they believed the stolen material was distributed
through Helsingius' computer in Helsinki to thousands of users on
the global computer network.
An anonymity server acts as an electronic filter, stripping the
return address from data and relaying it to a destination in
Some 7,000 messages pass daily through Helsingius' service,
which has been in operation for more than two years. It is one of
several around the world run independently by people committed to
privacy on the network.
``(Any) clever user would be able to disguise his or her real
identity,'' Helsingius said Tuesday. ``What I'm worried about is
that the police walked in and demanded the material without a court
Finnish law allows police to confiscate material they believe
has been stolen. Distribution of stolen material, including
corporate secrets, is a punishable offense in Finland.
``We applied the law in this case, and we were absolutely right
in doing so,'' said Pulkkinen, the police officer.
Helsingius said police at first wanted to take the whole
computer, effectively shutting down the service. ``But we reached a
compromise and they took only a diskette with the relevant
information,'' he said.
Pulkkinen said police determined Helsingius was doing nothing
illegal under Finnish law and ended their investigation.
But before ending the probe, police relayed Helsingius'
information back to California police via Interpol. They also
turned over the information to the Helsinki representative of the
Church of Scientology, Pulkkinen said.
Asked why Finnish police gave the private information to another
private party, Pulkkinen answered that the original complaint had
come from the scientologists.
The Church of Scientology previously has fought former church
members over court documents and church texts published on the
Internet, accessible by an estimated 30 million people worldwide.
Scientology, founded 40 years ago by science fiction writer L.
Ron Hubbard, teaches that technology can expand the mind and help
solve human problems. It features a hierarchy of knowledge that
initiates gain as they progress through stages of teaching and
counseling that can cost thousands of dollars.
Church representatives denied any involvement in trying to close
down Helsingius' conduit.
``We have nothing against anonymous posters,'' said Karin Pouw,
a spokeswoman for the scientologists in Los Angeles. ``It's a great
freedom and the right of everyone to communicate as long as
anonymity is not used to cover up a crime.''
In a separate Internet-related action, the church filed suit
last month against two Internet access provider companies with
copyright infringement for allowing a man to place some scientology
documents on the global network.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank