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Chris Owen: How one country, at least, is savaging Scientology’s privacy nightmare

[Hungary’s Attila Péterfalvi]

We’re glad to have back Chris Owen, author of the important work Ron, The “War Hero.” After last week’s police raid of Scientology’s “Ideal Org” in Budapest, Chris is helping us make sense of what the government there is doing.

The Hungarian Data Protection Commissioner, Dr. Attila Péterfalvi, has issued a scathing 129-page report faulting Scientology on many aspects of the way it handles personal data. Like his counterparts in other European Union states, he is charged with enforcing the data protection regulations that have been enacted by the EU and transposed into the national laws of each of its 28 member states.

Hungary’s National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) has investigated Scientology after receiving complaints about its management of members’ data. The results are potentially very damaging for Scientology. Not only has it been fined €130,000 ($152,000), but it has been ordered to change some of its basic practices, established by L. Ron Hubbard himself. And the report also has the potential to cause EU-wide damage to Scientology, as its conclusions are relevant to every member state in which Scientology operates.

The EU’s data protection system is based on eight principles (there’s a good summary here) which can be summarized briefly as: Proportionality, necessity, legality, and subject consent. Personal data has to be processed, stored, and transmitted legally, gathered only for lawful and proportionate purposes, and only with the consent of the subject. There are some exceptions, such as for law enforcement or litigation purposes.

Scientology’s approach to personal data was set out in policies issued by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and 1960s. Compared to other faith groups, Scientology requires its members to hand over a huge amount of personal and often very sensitive data, including details of personal finances, relationships, health, and sexual histories. Disclosing personal data is at the very heart of Scientology. You don’t have to go to confession to be a practising Catholic, but you can’t be a Scientologist and not do auditing. Another big difference is that priests don’t keep detailed records indefinitely of their parishioners’ confessions. Scientology’s auditors do.


Scientology claims that auditing records (preclear or PC files) are the equivalent of Catholic confessions and are strictly confidential, and protected by priest-penitent privileges. (In fact, the use of such supposedly confidential information to attack ex-members has been a well-documented practice.) However, Scientology also refuses to allow its current or ex-members to access their own PC files; this was at the center of the years-long legal battle between Laura DeCrescenzo and the Church of Scientology International for access to her old files.

Personal information is also acquired by Scientology in the course of its marketing outreach (particularly by offering its “personality test,” the OCA, to members of the public), its internal disciplinary proceedings (“Ethics”), its Purification Rundown procedures and through the Knowledge Reports which members submit on each other’s activities, in what this blog’s proprietor has aptly called a “snitching culture.”

The Hungarian report tears all of this apart, judging it to be non-compliant with fundamental data protection principles. The NAIH carried out a no-notice inspection of the Budapest Scientology org on 7 December 2016 and carried out a follow-up raid on 22 December 2016. It seized and reviewed records covering the period from 1 January 2012 to the present. Perhaps not surprisingly, the NAIH found a host of violations. Some highlights of what the report says:

— The OCA and the Purification Rundown are falsely presented by Scientology as having scientific validity. This deceit means that it is impermissible to gather personal data for the purpose of administering them, as informed consent cannot be given – basically, acquiring data to scam people is not a legitimate purpose;
— The questionnaires that staff and Sea Org members have to complete do not meet data protection requirements. Many individual questions (such as on mental health and sexual histories) are impermissible as they violate the principle of necessity relating to an employer’s requirements for employee data;
— Third parties’ personal data is being collected without their knowledge or consent, which is illegal. This is particularly the case in sec checking and “Knowledge Reports,” as illustrated by one example quoted in the report: “He organized a party in his home where he drank 1-2 glasses and then went up to bed, arguing. Then he did not let her sleep until she was having sex with him. […] he drank alcohol in a restaurant where he gave beer to his then […] year-old son and brandy, his […] year-old son too. Then she looks down at the restaurant’s terrace in front of her children’s eyes. He then wanted to have sex in the apartment with […] who did not want this…” – obviously very personal information and recorded without knowledge or consent of the third parties;
— The data protection rights of minors (who are subject to heightened protections) are also being violated;
— Data is being held on ex-employees for at least 25 years, whereas the law requires it to be destroyed five years after the legal relationship ends;
— Scientology does not provide adequate information to data subjects on how their data is being processed or held, or what their rights are in relation to accessing it, and is unlawfully denying members access to their own data;
— Personal data is being transferred illegally and without adequate security to Scientology servers in the US;
— Many aspects of the way personal data is being gathered and processed are unlawful, as they cannot be linked to the provision of religious services.
— PC files and Purification Rundown records of around 2,200 people were identified, about the same number of ethics files were found, and details of another 76,300 people were contained in the Budapest org’s mailing lists.

The NAIH says that this is the worst violation of data protection that it has ever seen in Hungary and has levied a maximum fine of €65,000 against each of the two Scientology entities incorporated in Hungary (both based in the same building in Budapest).

In addition, it has given Scientology 30 days to change its data handling policies, inform its employees and followers about the changes and obtain their consent for handling personal data, provide evidence that non-compliant data has been deleted (in particular that relating to third parties), end data collection relating to third parties, stop transferring data abroad and meet security requirements for the transmission of personal data.

This outcome is, to say the least, a huge problem for Scientology.

The fines are the least of its problems; the report states Scientology’s income in Hungary as over €3.3 million in 2015 alone, so it can easily afford a €130,000 fine. More significantly, the NAIH report effectively blows up many aspects of Scientology’s operations in Hungary.

The OCA and Purification Rundown are deemed to be based on falsehoods, so personal data cannot be gathered in relation to them. This makes the OCA useless as a marketing tool. The Purification Rundown may also become too risky legally for Scientology to promote. If health questionnaires can no longer be used, people with health conditions can no longer be weeded out to reduce the likelihood of people dropping dead on the Purif.

The NAIH has effectively banned Knowledge Reports, as they are by definition written without the knowledge or consent of the party being reported on. This blows up a central element of Scientology “Ethics.” The decision also cripples the practice of auditing. Auditors couldn’t record any matters concerning third parties, as those individuals’ data would have been gathered without their knowledge or consent. As everything is supposed to be recorded by the auditor, this would make auditing unworkable.

Sec checking is cut back drastically to cover what only a legitimate employer would have reason to ask. The report lists dozens of questions which the NAIH says have no legitimate purpose.

The report also requires Scientology to allow preclears, staff members and ex-members alike to access their own personal data. The data held on ex-members has to be destroyed in accordance with the law.

Putting minors through Scientology will be much harder if the heightened data protection rules relating to their information is enforced. Their personal data will be even more tightly restricted than those of adults. Treating them as “adults in small bodies” is not legally tenable, at least regarding their personal data.

Scientology in Hungary can no longer transfer personal data about its members abroad. This effectively cuts Hungary out of the central files held in the US.

Many of the policies governing how Scientology gathers and uses personal data were established by L. Ron Hubbard, but the NAIH has in effect found these policies to be illegal as they do not comply with EU data protection requirements. This is not surprising, given that Hubbard’s policies were written at a time and in a place where data protection rules were weak or non-existent. It gives Scientology a critical dilemma: does it abandon tenets of its “scriptures” and comply, or defy the requirements of “wog law” and face the legal consequences?

Scientology will no doubt appeal to the courts but it may not find much comfort there. The Hungarian government has been openly hostile to Scientology, which was one of over 300 faith groups controversially derecognised under a 2011 law. Further raids since the report was issued show that the government is carrying out a wide-ranging investigation of Scientology, not just regarding data protection but also issues such as tax compliance.

The biggest danger from the report, however, is its implications for Scientology in the rest of the EU. The NAIH has gone to considerable pains to document which specific data protection principles are violated by which specific Scientology policies. Because the same principles and policies are in force across the EU, the report effectively provides a road map to tackling data protection violations by Scientology in every EU state.

That doesn’t mean every national data protection authority will come to the same conclusions as the NAIH, but it does suggest Scientology could be in serious trouble if complaints were to be made in other EU countries about the practices that the NAIH found to be violations. The unalterable and standardised nature of Scientology policies has always been a major long-term weakness for the organisation. What happens if changes to the law make elements of those policies legally untenable? That’s what has now happened.

There is one other shoe waiting to drop. The report deals entirely with Scientology’s handling of its members’ personal data and non-members’ marketing data. But Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) also obtains personal data on individuals – ex-members, public figures and private citizens – it considers to be enemies of Scientology. OSA has certainly been active concerning Hungary, as Scientology has been campaigning against the Hungarian government’s restrictions at forums such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the report makes no mention of data collection by OSA in Hungary.

There are two possible explanations for this. One is that OSA has successfully concealed its activities from the NAIH. This seems unlikely, as the NAIH seems to be very well informed about Scientology’s use of personal data. It almost certainly knows what OSA is and what it does. It also seems unlikely that the NAIH inspectors have managed to repeatedly overlook the OSA office in the Budapest org during their raids.

There have since been more raids against the Budapest org and dozens of other properties, reportedly the homes of individual Hungarian Scientologists. According to the Hungarian newspaper Népszava, the National Tax and Customs Office is investigating Scientology for tax fraud, while the National Bureau of Investigation is “investigating an unknown actor for personal data misuse and suspicion of other crimes.”

It seems quite possible that OSA records have indeed been found and are the subject of ongoing investigations. Given OSA’s well-documented use of intelligence tactics and dirty tricks, it would not be surprising if the police were involved.

This could have very severe consequences for Scientology. When a raid in Greece uncovered Scientology’s misuse of personal data in 1995, it led to the courts ordering the closure of the Greek Scientology organisation two years later.

Could the same happen in Hungary?

— Chris Owen


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,913 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 59 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,122 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,896 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,670 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,016 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,510 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,550 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,262 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 788 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,877 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,017 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,337 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,312 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 668 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,970 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,076 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,479 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,352 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 933 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,438 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,682 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,791 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on October 25, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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