A row between the cult religion Scientology and users of the Internet who oppose censorship has led to a piece of software which performs a latter-day miracle: it raises newsgroup messages from the dead. The program, called Lazarus, has been created as a weapon in a war being fought on the Usenet's worldwide bulletin boards.
The self-styled Scientology 'church' is trying to delete the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, which has long been the venue for discussions between members of the sect and other Internet users. When late last year anonymous messages appeared attacking the church, some including inside information from the organisation, the Scientologists claimed that these had violated the church's copyright. It then sent e-mail to systems administrators telling them to delete the newsgroup. Most refused.
The next step, apparently carried out by computer- literate individuals acting on the church's behalf, was to send out software that generates cancellation notices for anti-Scientology messages posted to the newsgroup. These notices should automatically prevent the messages appearing. But long-time users of the Internet say that such cancellation breaks the prime tenet of the Usenet, which opposes censorship based on content. Hence the creation of Lazarus, which captures any message intended for the Scientology newsgroup and stores it. If a cancellation order arrives, it wipes out the order and re-sends the original message to all the sites which store messages from that newsgroup. And so the messages rise again.
Volume 145. Issue 1965.
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[Comment by Ron Newman: Unfortunately, this article is not quite accurate. Lazarus does not actually re-post cancelled messages. That would be rude, since most cancellations are genuine and actually done by the real authors of the original articles. What Lazarus actually does is post a notification of the cancel, including the headers of both the original message and the cancellation.]