Cops Halt Internet Anonymity February 28, 1995 HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- Police have seize

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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 seconds. 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 order.'' 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.

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