Last week, something strange happened in the realm of Right to Repair - Apple changed its position. It was a shock to most people in the industry who have followed Apple's public attacks on users' ability to work on their own devices. This week, however, we've got an even bigger shock, but this time coming out against Right to Repair bill amendments. This new adversary is the always controversial Church of Scientology, or specifically one of its subsidiaries.
Scientology's issue with Right to Repair
We'll address why Scientology, presumably a religious organization, might take issue with a Right to Repair law in a bit. But, for now, let's look at where their issue is. The church, or more specifically Ryland Hawkins of Author Services Inc., sent a letter to the US Copyright office taking issue with exemptions that are being granted to Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Section 1201 "makes it unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works." However, certain exemptions allow users to violate these rules for certain consumer devices.
Author Services Inc., which is a subsidiary of the Church of Spiritual Technology, which is a subsidiary of Scientology as a whole, is seeking a carveout in the exemptions. They want to add a clause that allows for devices that require specialty training to operate to be excluded from the exemptions. For example, a medical device or Apple's diagnostic systems, both of which require specialty training and licensing, should be allowed to prevent user tampering.
On the surface, this might sound like a viable middle ground. However, like any other device, the manufacturer could go out of business or stop supporting the device. This would leave these devices as unusable e-waste, whereas the exemptions allow users to maintain abandoned hardware and software. But, manufacturers could use this proposed clause to claim something like a user quick start guide is training and therefore their devices are exempt from the Right to Repair rules.
Why does Scientology care?
Nowhere in the letter does the organization explain their reasoning. However, if you know anything about Scientology, then you likely have an idea. The organization has a single piece of electronic equipment that they use as part of their services: the electropsychometer. Scientology describes the device as an "electronic instrument that measures mental state and change of state in individuals and assists the precision and speed of auditing."
The device is only to be used by "ministers" and those in training, which is where the interest in the exemption likely comes from. Scientology has long been concerned about outsiders getting a look into what these e-meters really are for fear of it exposing the mostly fraudulent nature of the device and therefore the process. According to insiders, an e-meter is merely an antique version of a lie detector, measuring electrical signal fluctuations across your body. If this is true, it would be reasonable for the organization to want to keep that a secret.
But, in such a closed society, how or why would they be so worried about tampering? Well, people leave the church all the time, and apparently some people manage to sneak out with the devices. You can find them online with price tags upwards of $5000. Scientology is an incredibly litigious organization (we expect to get a letter about this article), and having the ability to exempt themselves from user repair could allow them to sue those who own the devices without permission under the pretense of the DMCA law.